Video / Multimedia
Restaurant Workers Demand Equal Pay, Appealing to Restaurant Lobbyists and Congress
A group of young restaurant workers donning black-and-white apparel, typically associated with the service industry, lobbied outside the National Restaurant Association’s Washington D.C. headquarters on Equal Pay Day this week, calling for an increase on the federally-set $2.13 minimum wage for those earning tips.
The sub-par wage has made earning a decent standard of living unsustainable for the female-heavy industry.
“Women are disproportionately affected by the low tipped minimum wage,” said MomsRising CEO and executive director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. “The vast majority of restaurant servers are women and, in many cases, those women are moms and the primary breadwinners in the families. The irony is that these same moms who earn their living serving food often don’t earn enough to put food on the table, make rent, and cover utilities.”
Pastel-colored balloons hovered over a large outstretched banner placed on the pavement that read: “Women are worth more than $2.13.” Demonstrators danced while singing a reworked version of the Boyz II Men hit “Motown Philly,” instead of enlisting the expertise of long-winded speakers to communicate their message, and chanted spiritedly in several different languages.
The National Organization of Women, MomsRising, and other Restaurant Opportunities Center allies showed their support at the protest before some left to shadow National Restaurant Association members on their lobby visits on Capitol Hill.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) recently proposed a bill dubbed the “Rebuild America Act” that would triple the minimum tipped wage for the first time in 21 years. But the proposal has been rebuffed by Republicans and restaurant lobbyists (like the NRA) who argue it would force businesses and restaurateurs to eliminate jobs.
A recent report by ROC found that servers—71 percent of which are female—are almost three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line than the general workforce and are nearly twice as likely to need food stamps.
The report also argued that by keeping the federal minimum wage low, lawmakers and lobbyists are institutionalizing the gender gap in pay as 52 percent of all restaurant workers are women, but two-thirds of tipped workers are women.
“In what is one of our fastest-growing industries coming out of the recession, we should really ensure that the men and women who serve us and prepare our food are earning wages that keep them out of poverty,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the ROC United in a statement. “It’s absurd that the minimum wage has remained unchanged for over 20 years despite the massive profits the industry earns. We’re here to tell our leg.”
Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress. Tara Kutz is a video communications associate at Campus Progress.