Economy & Budget

One Fair Wage: a major plank in Democratic platform

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With so much coverage of the Democratic National Platform this past week, you may have caught Tim Kaine and others mentioning a lesser-known issue: the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers. Since tipped workers in America are more than 66% women — nearly 40% of them mothers — and more than half are people of color, we, leaders of national women’s organizations, would like to congratulate workers and their allies nationwide for leading on this important issue.

It is no surprise that, at 11 million workers and counting, the restaurant industry is among the fast-growing sectors of our economy. Our nation’s love affair with dining out is unparalleled. But sadly, even if the food and the service are great, too often the experience leaves us dissatisfied with the underlying truths of the industry. Because our server is likely just getting by under America’s unfair, sub-minimum wage system.

{mosads}Take, for instance, 24 year-old waitress and Maine resident, Julia Legler. Up to her eyeballs in student debt, one of her two jobs is waitressing, where she feels pressured to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers and colleagues because of the precariousness of living off tips.

At just $2.13 per hour at the federal level, the sub-minimum wage system leaves tipped workers — largely women and people of color — disproportionately impacted by financial insecurity, sexual harassment, and discrimination. The movement for One Fair Wage seeks to eliminate this unjust, two-tiered wage system, and establish a fair, living wage for all workers.

And it is picking up steam like never before. The Department of Labor and the Obama Administration both support ending the two-tiered wage system. And Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has come out unequivocally for One Fair Wage, including it in her party’s official platform. 

Seven states have already eliminated the sub-minimum wage. Julie’s home state of Maine is poised to become the 8th, with a ballot initiative establishing One Fair Wage gaining considerable momentum, thanks to the efforts of Mainers for Fair Wages. The referendum would increase the state’s minimum wage and eventually eliminate the tipped minimum wage altogether.

This would be a game changer for Maine’s tipped workers. As Julie Legler explains, “If I made, at the very least, minimum wage from my employer, I would have more protection from mistreatment from customers, and I would be able to plan and budget with an income that was more consistent.”

The assumption is often that tipped workers are largely young white men earning six figures at fine dining establishments. In reality, the vast majority are women and people of color, working at casual restaurants like Denny’s or The Olive Garden. In Maine, the average sub-minimum wage worker makes just $8.72 an hour, including tips. They are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times as likely to have to use food stamps to feed their families.

And then there’s the sexual harassment. The restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment claims to the EEOC. Forced to live off tips — and thus, the kindness of strangers — the sub-minimum wage system puts women tipped workers like Julie Legler in a uniquely vulnerable and dangerous position, forcing them to endure harassment from customers, coworkers, and managers to make ends meet. Although just seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, it is responsible for 37% of all sexual harassment claims to the EEOC.

To be clear, this is not about the elimination of tipping; it’s about ending a system that forces workers to rely on tips — rather than a fair wage from their employer — to make ends meet. We’re joined by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, National Organization for Women, 9to5 National Association of Working Women, National Partnership for Women and Families, and Family Values @Work; leading women’s rights organizations that agree it’s time for One Fair Wage.

The doomsday scenarios posited by the restaurant lobby have been exposed for the fallacies they are; neither jobs nor tips are going away in California or any other One Fair Wage state. In fact, California recently took a step further, increasing the minimum wage for all workers, including tipped workers, to $15 per hour. With so much momentum nationwide for One Fair Wage, Maine is leading the way toward a future in which all work — tipped or un-tipped — has dignity. 

Ellen Bravo, ED, is with Family Values @ Work; Terry O Neill is president of the National Organization for Women; and Linda Meric is  Executive Director, 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


Tags Democratic National Platform Hillary Clinton One Fair Wage Tim Kaine United States
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