There are 14 million people who work in America’s restaurant industry. They make as little as $2.13 at the federal level. This forces them to rely on tips—essentially the whims of customers—rather than a fair wage from their employers to make ends meet. As a result, they disproportionately experience poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is particularly rampant. The majority of people in the restaurant industry who work for tips are women. The precariousness of their income leaves them vulnerable to inappropriate behavior from customers, employers, and fellow staff.
In a powerful piece for the Guardian, Rose Hackman interviews a few of these courageous women of the restaurant industry about the degradation they endure at work.
Sometimes they don’t treat you like you’re a human being. Sometimes they treat you like a whore.”
“The customers,” she responds, matter-of-factly. And just like that the shocking stories commence.
The time she had a hot steak thrown at her, and had to go and hide so no one would see her tears. That time she quit her job because the owner was coming on to staff, including girls who were underage. And the many times she felt like she was treated like a sex worker.
It is stories like this one that inspired the One Fair Wage campaign. ROC United believes a fair, living wage for all workers will give people who work in restaurants the financial stability needed to take care of their families and to advocate for themselves.
That is the singular vision of our very own Saru Jayaraman. Author, professor, and cultural critic Jonah Raskin penned a fascinating profile Saru, and why One Fair Wage is neccessary to equip the millions of people who work in the restaurant industry with the skills and tools needed to create better futures for their families.
Jayaraman states her case with figures—like the $2.13 federal minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers—and the fact that as a group they’re among the lowest paid workers in America.
“Many workers are afraid to protest,” she told me. “And many consumers care more about free range chickens than they do about free range people.”
She added, “The San Francisco Bay Area takes pride in being progressive, but there are a great many restaurants here that are abusive, exploitative and discriminatory. Gentrification hasn’t helped restaurant workers find housing, and with lousy public transportation it’s often a big challenge just to get to a job.”
We agree with Saru. With One Fair Wage, people who work in restaurants can achieve financial independence and improve their quality of life.