December 18, 2017
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
One Fair Wage: Time to End the Subminimum Tipped Wage
and Prevent Sexual Harassment in New York’s Restaurants
We, the undersigned women, write to thank you for announcing a proposal in your 2018 State of State to review eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers in New York and acknowledging that the practice of tipping disproportionately affects women and people of color and is linked to higher rates of sexual harassment. We urge you to act fast to put this regulation in effect. You have the opportunity to implement the first, and one of the most significant, statewide policy changes on sexual harassment in the #MeToo Movement. We look forward to making this happen with you. There is no better time to lead than now.
This fall’s unfolding explosive allegations of decades of sexual harassment and rape made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has shined a floodlight on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the movie industry. The incident has highlighted how so many of the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault stayed silent because they were made to feel their jobs were on the line, and that this type of behavior is “the norm.” Sadly, this is just one of many headlines in a year that saw Fox News founder Roger Ailes and one of his top stars, Bill O’Reilly, both exposed and fired for their years of sexual predation – their actions covered up with “hush money” or blatantly denied. More recently, we’ve learned of Matt Lauer’s, Kevin Spacey’s, and Charlie Rose’s transgressions. We of course cannot forget the dozens of women who also came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them.
While this news about Hollywood might not be surprising to some, many likely would be surprised to learn that the restaurant industry is one of the largest sources of sexual harassment claims filed in the U.S. Recent headlines have focused on the sexual harassment inflicted on employees working for celebrity chefs/restaurateurs such as Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, and John Besh. But a recent survey by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) revealed that a culture of sexual harassment is the norm in the restaurant industry as a whole, whether it be in a 5-star restaurant in NYC or a small eatery in Hudson Falls. The survey found more than 80 percent of New York’s tipped restaurant employees reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors at work (from co-workers, customers, owners, managers, supervisors), and over half reported that this is a weekly or daily occurrence at their workplaces. Fifty-five percent reported that they or a co-worker had experienced verbal abuse at work in the past year, including harassment, slurs, and threats.
When workers are forced to rely on tips to make the minimum wage, they are more vulnerable to predatory sexual behavior from customers, co-workers, and employers.
States with a lower subminimum wage for tipped workers have twice the rate of sexual harassment and three times the rate of management coercion of workers to subject themselves to objectification than the seven states with one fair wage. As in Hollywood, sexual harassment is underreported in the restaurant industry and has been normalized as just part of the job.
On top of this culture of harassment and abuse, the restaurant industry offers some of the state’s lowest-paid jobs, particularly for women. Tipped restaurant workers live in poverty at more than twice the rate of other working New Yorkers and over 40 percent earn an annual income below twice the federal poverty level, barely enough to meet basic expenses. Thirty-five percent receive some form of public assistance. The subminimum wage for tipped employees constitutes a government-sanctioned pay gap, including a gender pay gap.
New York became a leader in 2016 by moving the minimum wage to $15 per hour for many of its residents. However, it left out the almost 400,000 tipped workers, most of whom work in the restaurant industry. Now is the time for Governor Cuomo to once again lead, and make New York become the first East Coast state to eliminate the tipped minimum wage and all the forms of discrimination and harassment it promotes.
Governor, thank you for directing the Department of Labor “to ensure that no workers are more susceptible to exploitation because they rely on tips to survive.” We commit to working with you to make One Fair Wage a reality in our state in 2018. Together we will effectively eliminate the workplace conditions and practices that put tipped workers – especially women and LGBTQ workers – at great risk of sexual harassment. This issue is front and center across the nation. There is no better time to act – to lead – than now.
Dina Bakst, A Better Balance
Annette Choolfaian, Women’s City Club of New York
Eve Ensler, playwright & activist
Jane Fonda, actress & activist
Barbara Gault, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (org. for affiliation purposes only)
Robin Chappelle Golston, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts
Fatima Goss Graves, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC)
Sarita Gupta, Jobs with Justice (JWJ)
Saru Jayaraman, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United)
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Forward Together
Martha Maffei, SEPA Mujer Inc.
Dahlia J.W. McManus, Working Families Party (WFP)
Debra L. Ness, National Partnership for Women & Families
Beverly Neufeld, PowHer
Christine L. Owens, National Employment Law Project (NELP)
Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)
Karen Scharff, Citizen Action of New York
Esta Soler, Futures Without Violence
Toni Van Pelt, National Organization for Women (NOW)
Teresa C. Younger & Aleyamma Mathew, Ms. Foundation for Women
Susan Zimet, Women’s Equality Party (WEP)