Harrisburg, PA — Today at the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) office, tipped workers from throughout Pennsylvania will unite in protest of the tipped minimum wage, which was last increased 19 years ago by the Pennsylvania legislature. The PRLA continues to urge legislators to perpetuate this two-tiered wage system in the restaurant industry, whereby servers, bartenders, bussers and other tipped employees are paid a subminimum wage of just $2.83 per hour. They are forced to rely exclusively on customer tips — in essence, the whims of customers — rather than their employers to make a living. As a result, tipped workers in Pennsylvania experience poverty at more than double the rate of the general workforce.
It is fitting that the majority of workers participating in today’s action are women. Over 70% of tipped workers in Pennsylvania are women, many of them mothers, disproportionately facing financial insecurity, discrimination, and sexual harassment as a result of living off tips.
Christine Gnecco, from Greensburg Pennsylvania, has experienced firsthand the challenges of raising a child off of tips. “I, like so many others in my industry, wait tables in order to put food on the table for my own son. Living off tips and customer whims make it difficult to plan ahead for what he’ll eat or wear to school, let alone for his future.”
The difficulties faced by Pennsylvania’s tipped workers under the subminimum wage system are no accident. They are the result of the concerted efforts of the PRLA, who have for decades worked feverishly to keep wages as low as possible. After nearly twenty years at $2.83 per hour, workers like Rebecca Conry are fed up: “It is unacceptable that many of my colleagues in the industry are making the same abysmally low wages their mothers were making two decades ago. I’ve seen countless women working full time but still struggling to make ends meet and often having to deal with sexual harassment from customers or even management on top of the low wages.”
Veterans of the restaurant industry, like Valerie Erwin, also participated in the protest. Valerie remarked, “I have worked in the restaurant industry for 35 years. It’s an industry I love despite its racial and financial inequities and uncertainties. If we don’t take a stand now, things will never change. Pennsylvania is ready for One Fair Wage.”
“Nationally we have seen movement towards fair wages for front and back of the house workers by consumers, policymakers and restaurateurs. There are currently seven States that have eliminated the tipped minimum wage and their restaurant industries have higher sales per capita, higher restaurant job growth and some even have higher rates of tipping” added ROC Pennsylvania Director Sheila Maddali. “The fight for higher wages and parity for tipped and non-tipped workers is an economic and gender justice fight. We will continue to call upon our legislators in Pennsylvania to resist the pressure of the PRLA and give our tipped workforce a much overdue raise.”
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 nearly 18,000 worker-members in more than 30 cities in the U.S., winning 15 worker-led campaigns, recovering $8 million in stolen tips and wages.