For Immediate Release: April 2, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte, maria@rocunited.org, 720-352-6153

Rhode Island’s Leading Women’s Rights Advocates Urge Electeds to Support Raise for Majority Women Tipped Workforce

Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women & Secretary Treasurer of RI AFL-CIO, Maureen Martin, Hand-Delivers Open-Letter to Chairman Shekarchi, Vice Chairman Palangio, and Members of the House Labor Committee, Urging Passage of ‘One Fair Wage’ Bill

Providence, RI – With a vote from the Labor Committee on the ‘One Fair Wage’ bill (HB 5364) expected in early May, an open-letter urging the bill’s passage was delivered today to electeds on behalf of the state’s women workers.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, would raise the state’s current tipped minimum wage from $2.89 an hour — the lowest in all of New England — to a full minimum wage of $9.00 an hour, effectively eliminating the two-tiered wage system. Senator Gayle Goldin has also introduced a ‘One Fair Wage’ bill in the Senate.

If passed, 22,000 tipped workers, mostly women, would receive a much needed raise for the first time in over 20 years.

The open-letter was hand-delivered and signed by Maureen Martin, Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women & Secretary Treasurer of RI AFL-CIO, and signed by Jenn Steinfeld, Executive Director of The Women’s Fund Rhode Island; and Shandi Hanna, Action Vice President Rhode Island National Organization for Women.

Martin encouraged legislators to pass the ‘One Fair Wage’ bill, stating “sexual harassment is not just a women’s issue, it’s a social issue, it’s a wage issue.”  The restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the Unites States, responsible for  37% of sexual harassment complaints filed before EEOC. According to a recent national survey, 90% of female tipped workers report experiencing sexual harassment on the job, demonstrating the connection between subminimum wages and increased experiences of sexual harassment for women working in tipped classifications.

There is increasing momentum across the country to raise wages for tipped workers. A national poll shows 71% of Americans support directly paying tipped workers 100% of the regular minimum wage. Just weeks ago, New York State announced a 50% increase to its tipped minimum wage, raising it from $5.00 an hour to $7.50 by the end of this year. Seven states across the country have already completely eliminated their subminimum wage and five other states on the East Coast are debating ‘One Fair Wage’ legislation which would do the same.

Find the full text of the letter below or online here.

4/2/2015

Dear Chairman Shekarchi, Vice Chairman Palangio, and Members of the House Labor Committee,

The time to take action is now. We urge you to stand with women in Rhode Island and recommend passage of HB 5364. Subminimum wages create poverty and inequity for women in our state.

When we talk about wages for tipped workers, we are talking about wages for women. This is an overwhelmingly female workforce population; 69% of tipped workers in Rhode Island are women, 35% of these workers are mothers. The Hospitality Association and its lobbyists try to claim that most tipped employees earn a comfortable middle class living working in fine dining restaurants. But statistics do not support this claim. In Rhode Island, tipped workers rely on food stamps and live at poverty rates nearlydouble the rate of the general workforce.

Subminimum wages create inequity between women and men by perpetuating the gender wage gap. Female tipped workers in Rhode Island earn just 74% of what their male counterparts earn. This is even worse than the overall wage gap in Rhode Island, where women earn 81% of what their male counterparts earn.  Men more frequently work in fine dining restaurants where tips are higher. Women more frequently work in casual full service restaurants where tips are lower. Therefore, women suffer more than men when earning a subminimum wage of just $2.89 an hour.

Furthermore, a wage system that forces women to depend on unreliable tips rather than a steady base wage for the bulk of their income leaves them vulnerable to sexual harassment. Standing up to inappropriate behavior from a customer, when it means sacrificing a tip or standing up to an inappropriate manager who decides shift sections is a luxury most tipped workers do not have. It is no surprise that the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual-harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As an example of inherent managerial prejudice against women tip workers, Ray Desmarais, Operations Director of 99 Restaurants, said “shame on them for allowing it” and suggested that servers who want to avoid sexual harassment quit their jobs and get jobs at his restaurants. This barbaric and insensitive attitude should not be reflected by our legislators. Women have nothing to be ashamed of. The problem is not women. The problem is the two-tier wage policy which discriminates against women. The solution is not quitting their job. The solution is One Fair Wage.

There are many social, economic and political advantages of One Fair Wage legislation. Cost of social programs funded by taxpayers can be reduced. Enrollment in Food stamps, Medicaid, and School Lunch Programs could decline if Rhode Island implemented One Fair Wage. Taking care of mothers is good for children, good for taxpayers, and good for Rhode Island.

It is time to end this system that is bad for women, bad for families, bad for taxpayers and bad for our economy. No classification of the workforce should be exempt from the protections of the minimum wage. No employee who serves their customers meals should ever struggle to put food on their own table. No woman should have to endure harassment or risk losing pay. It is time for One Fair Wage.

Sincerely,

Maureen Martin, Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women & Secretary Treasurer of RI AFL-CIO
Jenn Seinfeld, Executive Director of The Women’s Fund Rhode Island
Shandi Hanna, Action Vice President Rhode Island National Organization for Women

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to over 13,000 worker-members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.

The One Fair Wage Coalition includes RI-AFLCIO, Coalition of Labor Union Women, RI NOW and the Women’s Fund, Planned Parenthood of RI, RI JWJ, Working RI, NAACP Providence Chapter, Brown Student Labor Alliance, Fuerza Laboral, SEIU BJ, USAWRI, Bell St. Chapel, NEARI, Farm Fresh RI, HERE, Economic Progress Institute and more.