In the fight for a $15 minimum wage, don’t forget about tipped workers. While the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009—and Congress hasn’t passed an increase since 2007—the tipped worker minimum wage has been at $2.13 an hour since 1991. The theory is that workers get at least minimum wage thanks to tips, or else employers make up the difference. The reality can be very different: “the federal Department of Labor’s wage and hour division has estimated that 84% of restaurants violate labor standards including tip violations. In other words, far too often, workers don’t get the tips they’re due,” Saru Jayaraman of One Fair Wage writes.
And working for tips opens workers up to racism, sexism, and sexual harassment. Research shows that Black waiters get lower tips, and waiters viewed as attractive get higher tips. Now, there’s a new twist, Jayaraman reports. “Male customers are making lewd and sexualized comments about servers’ masks and saying things to women servers like, ‘Take off your mask so I can see how much to tip you.’ In other words, while tips and, thus, wages for restaurant workers are plummeting, sexual harassment is rising.”
This is gross and awful, and while it would be great to see immediate justice in the form of drinks in faces and food dumped on laps, it would be still better if workers didn’t have to put up with that kind of harassment to make a living wage.