With all of the organic and local items on menus, it has never been a better time to eat in our country. At the same time, this may be the worst time in a long time to be a restaurant worker. The wages of restaurant workers in Philadelphia have declined by 11% since 2003 and nationally, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t increased since 1991. Yesterday, five former workers from a popular Philadelphia sushi restaurant announced that they had reached a $40,000 settlement with their employer, showing a growing food worker movement a powerful example of how they can get organized and win.
Today, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). ROC United estimates that approximately 3 million restaurant workers have acquired health care coverage through the ACA. They are among an estimated 30 million people who stand to lose their health insurance. Beyond being a craven, hyper-partisan vote, today’s vote is a victory for corporate interest over working people nationwide.
Restaurant workers will be hit particularly hard. With the restaurant industry having 7 of 10 of the lowest-paying jobs in America, our industry’s health care is subsidized by the ACA. Many tipped restaurant workers receive a subminimum wage of just $2.13 per hour. Forced to rely on tips to support their families, they face disproportionate rates of poverty and financial instability. As such, health insurance is hard to come by in the restaurant industry. The ACA was a lifeline for so many of these families. In addition to being morally reprehensible, reducing access to affordable health care in the restaurant industry poses an enormous public health risk. Without it, people in the restaurant industry will be forced to work while sick.
If passed in the Senate, the repeal of the ACA will be a disaster for working families nationwide, especially those supported by restaurant workers. However, we cannot despair. ROC members, restaurant workers, and their allies have led the resistance to the Trump agenda through our campaign for One Fair Wage, condemnation of the nominations of both Andrew Puzder and Alexander Acosta for Labor Secretary, and leadership and avid support for the recent Women’s and May 1 Strikes. Our resistance continues, and will only grow stronger in the face of the Trump Administration’s harmful policies.
We must continue this fight for fair wages and workplace conditions, including paid sick leave and access to healthcare for all. In the words of Dr. King, “ the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”