FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 31, 2016
Contact: Dallas Donnell, dallas@rocunited.org, 215-870-7076
Tim Rusch, ruschtk@gmail.com, 917-399-0236

 On 25th Anniversary of Last Tipped Minimum Wage Increase, Prominent National Advocacy and Research Groups Call for Nation to Adopt One Fair Wage for All Workers

Washington, D.C. – This Friday, April 1st marks 25 years since the last change in the federal minimum wage for tipped employees, which was increased from just $2.09 to $2.13 per hour in 1991. This two-tiered system of a separate, lower minimum wage for tipped workers has left nearly 4.5 million working people across the country struggling to survive on poverty wages. Two-thirds of tipped workers are women, and of the restaurant workers who make up more than half of the tipped workforce about 70 percent are women.

To mark a quarter century that tipped workers have been paid a base wage as low as $2.13 an hour, a growing number of national organizations are calling for the complete elimination of the subminimum wage for tipped workers in favor of paying one fair minimum wage to all working people.  There are currently seven states where tipped workers receive the regular minimum wage. In these states, restaurant job growth is stronger and poverty rates among tipped workers are dramatically lower, than in states where tipped workers are paid $2.13 – demonstrating that one fair wage is good for both our economy and our families.

This anniversary is especially timely as the minimum wage is being debated in cities and states across the country.  D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently called for an increase in the citywide minimum wage to $15 by 2020, but remained silent on the inclusion of tipped workers who currently earn just $2.77 an hour in the District. Meanwhile, lawmakers in California, which has done away with the subminimum wage for tipped workers, earlier this week announced a deal to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“$2.13 an hour isn’t enough for a single person to survive on, much less a family. That’s what we’re talking about here: a majority of tipped workers are women, and many are the heads of their households,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. “Without a stable base wage to depend on, these women can be forced to choose between child care and medical care, because while their income fluctuates their bills don’t. Even worse, tipped workers in states that pay as low as $2.13 an hour experience sexual harassment at twice the rate of their counterparts in states where there’s one fair minimum wage for all workers.”

“Twenty-five-year anniversaries are normally joyous, but the fact that the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 per hour for the last 25 years is a national disgrace. Workers across a range of industries and occupations as diverse as restaurant servers, airport wheelchair attendants, and barbers and stylists perform work that is exacting and often strenuous, and compensated largely through tips. That’s unfair to workers and customers alike: tipped workers deserve a fair wage, with a floor on par with employees in other industries. And customers shouldn’t be stuck paying employees’ wages when it’s the employer’s responsibility,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “In seven states, tipped workers must be paid at least the full minimum wage as their base pay. These states have thriving economies and rising employment. It’s time for the nation to follow their lead: eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and pay one fair minimum wage to all workers.”

“The tipped wage is a legacy of slavery whose ugly origins are rooted in a time when American employers didn’t want to pay newly freed African Americans a proper wage,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Today, our paltry, subminimum tipped wage of $2.13 an hour has institutionalized an unequal, two-tiered wage gap that keeps millions of working Americans trapped in poverty and disproportionately harms working people of color and their families. This is unacceptable anywhere, but it’s unconscionable in a country that prides itself on being a land of opportunity.”

“No wonder there’s a wage gap—and no wonder so many of the workers who serve our food can barely afford food themselves,” said Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Vice President for Program at the National Women’s Law Center. “At just $2.13 an hour, the shamefully low federal tipped minimum cash wage leaves tipped workers with no stable income to depend on when their tips vary from week to week. And most of the workers who rely on tips to support themselves and their families are women, disproportionately women of color. But in the states that already have one minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers alike, the average poverty rate among women tipped workers is 33 percent lower—and the average wage gap is 14 percent smaller—than in states with a $2.13 tipped minimum wage. Women and families across the country deserve one fair minimum wage.”

“Paying women and all workers fairly and well enough to keep food on the table and their families out of poverty is essential to our nation’s well-being,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Women in the United States today head more than 15 million households and are breadwinners in most families, yet they also make up the majority of tipped workers who often suffer from low wages and have no paid sick days, paid family or medical leave, or access to other family friendly policies. Eliminating the grossly outdated tipped minimum wage, raising the federal minimum wage and making paid leave available to all workers should be top priorities for every lawmaker who supports strengthening families and our economy.”

“Tipped work is one of the fastest-growing occupations and one of the lowest-paid, especially for women and for workers of color,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs. “Increasing the federal minimum wage for tipped workers would lift 700,000 people out of poverty, and over half of these individuals would be workers of color. In addition, more than $12 billion would be pumped into our economy because of workers’ having more spending power, leading to more jobs and more economic growth. Doing right by these workers isn’t just good for the workers – it’s good for the economy.”

The tipped minimum wage has not only failed to increase along with national wages, it has been artificially suppressed by the extensive lobbying efforts of the National Restaurant Association, whose then-President Herman Cain struck a deal in 1996 to freeze the rate at the current $2.13 per hour, maintaining the restaurant industry’s status as the absolute lowest paying in the nation.

List of supporting organizations:

9to5, National Association of Working Women
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Center for Community Change
Coalition on Human Needs
CONNECT
CREDO
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Food Shift
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Maine AFL-CIO
National Council of Jewish Women
National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Employment Law Project
National Family Farm Coalition
National Immigration Law Center
National Jobs for All Coalition
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women’s Law Center
Progressive Congress
Public Citizen
Real Food Media
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
SEIU
Slow Food USA
Small Planet Institute
The Task Force
Transport Workers Union, Local 100
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Women
Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Voices for Progress
Voter Participation Center
Women’s Media Center
Working Families Party