Washington DC – On Equal Pay Day and the first day of the National Restaurant Association (NRA)’s Public Affairs Conference, ROC United, restaurant workers and supporters traveled to the NRA headquarters to “Protest Like It’s 1991,” calling attention to the fact that the federal subminimum wage rate for tipped workers of $2.13 has not been raised since 1991. This stagnant subminimum wage has resulted in alarming rates of poverty among tipped workers, the majority of whom are women.

While Speaker of the House John Boehner gave a speech at the NRA conference, servers and other restaurant workers earning the federal tipped minimum wage, activists with ROC, and other supporters danced and sang in flash mob style to a 1991 re-written hit from 90s-era R&B band Boyz II Men; the lyrics focused on the tipped minimum wage and gender discrimination in the restaurant industry. Meanwhile, oversized floating banners circled NRA headquarters with the message, “The National Restaurant Association Thinks Women Are Worth $2.13.”

“Women are disproportionately affected by the low tipped minimum wage,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising CEO and Executive Director. “The vast majority of restaurant servers are women and in many cases those women are moms and the primary breadwinners in their families. It’s difficult enough to support a family on a single income today, but when you’re earning only $2.13 an hour and rely heavily on tips to make ends meet, it can be nearly impossible to keep your head above water financially. 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 the rent and cover the utilities.”

This event comes just a few weeks after Sen. Tom Harkin introduced legislation in Congress which would raise the tipped minimum wage for the first time in over twenty years. Both Speaker Boehner and the NRA oppose this legislation. In light of the proposed legislation and the W.A.G.E.S. Act (HR 631), ROC and its members organized a second protest on Capitol Hill, shadowing NRA members as they lobbied against better wages for women and working families.

As revealed in our recent report Tipped Over the Edge, servers, over 70% of whom are women, have three times the poverty rate of the rest of the United States workforce, and more than half of all restaurant workers live below the federal poverty line for a family of three.

“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 ROC. “It’s absurd that the minimum wage has remained unchanged for over twenty years despite the massive profits the industry earns. We’re here to tell our legislators: it’s time to change the wage.”

Victoria Burton, a member of ROC-Philadelphia and restaurant server for over 18 years in Pennsylvania, said, “I serve families food for a living, but there were times I had to use food stamps to feed my own family. Even though I worked hard year after year, as a single parent of two children relying solely on my tips to survive, the only way I was able to have a roof over my head and feed my children was with additional support from my parents and the government.”

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