To Raise Minimum Wage, Tipped Workers Invoke #MeToo

Jena Watanabe still can’t forget that moment when she was waiting tables in Utah, and “all of a sudden, I felt a slap on my butt.” Turning around, she saw a new customer. “Instead of reacting, because I was afraid of losing my tips or losing my job, I didn’t do anything.”

Watanabe is one of many servers who subsist on poverty wages and suffer sexual harassment. That’s why restaurant workers are making the most of the #MeToo moment in their fight for higher minimum wages that will make them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Low Wages, High Vulnerability. About two million people—70 percent of whom are women—work as restaurant servers.

  • The federal government sets a subminimum wage of only $2.13 an hour for tipped workers (including servers and bartenders) to be paid that amount, as long as they earn $7.25 or more per hour with tips included.
  • Servers say that their dependence on tips often forces them to accept abuse. In 2014, a survey of restaurant workers across the country found 78 percent had been harassed by customers; two-thirds by managers; and a full 80 by co-workers.

One Fair Wage. To raise incomes and reduce harassment, restaurant workers and advocates, such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center, are urging states to require the same minimum wage for all employees, including tipped workers.

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for public hearings.
  • The issue will be on the ballot in June in Washington, DC, and efforts are underway for a referendum in Michigan.
  • Currently, Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin set the same minimum wage for tipped workers as other employees.
  • With union representation, restaurant and hospitality workers enjoy wage increases and safeguards against harassment.