Author Archives: ROC United

The High Cost of Getting Paid: How Payroll Cards Cost Darden Employees

“The High Cost of Getting Paid: How Payroll Cards Cost Darden Employees,” examines Darden Restaurants’ use of payroll cards, which apply costly hidden fees to over a hundred thousand of their low-wage employees.

The study, based on an in-depth survey of over 200 Darden employees, examines the unsubstantiated claim that the cards are a convenient substitute to cash or checks for employees without traditional bank accounts. The findings show that thousands of low-wage workers at Darden are actually paying high fees just to access their own earned wages. In addition to detailing the many troubling impacts that payroll cards have on workers, the report also outlines a set of policy recommendations to protect Darden workers and can serve as a model to protect other low-wage employees nationwide.

Darden’s tipped servers reported special complications using the payroll card. In states where tipped employees earn the federal subminimum wage of $2.13 per hour, much if not all of their wages go towards paying taxes. For tipped workers, fees can create an additional barrier to accessing wages on the payroll card because fees amount to a larger percentage of their wages. This provides a disincentive for workers to access their wages via the payroll card and may have the effect of allowing Darden to shift the costs of doing business onto their already low-wage tipped workforce.

Key findings include:

  • 76% of employees reported having to pay fees to access their wages at the ATM.
  • 42% reported experiencing problems accessing their wages through the payroll card.
  • 24% of employees reported fees at point-of-purchase.
  • 63% reported that they were not told about all of the fees associated with the card before it was issued to them.
  • 49% reported that they do not have access to ATMs that do not charge them a fee to access their wages.
  • 26% reported not being allowed to choose an alternative method of payment to the Darden payroll card.
  • 23% of employees reported not being given instructions on how to use the Darden Card.
  • 54% of employees who used the card to fill up their gas tanks have experienced large authorization holds on their card as a result.

Recommended solutions for policymakers include:

  • Support legislation that eliminates the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
  • Pass legislation that ensures workers have unlimited free access to the entirety of their wages.
  • Provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.
  • Require that workers be clearly informed about card fees in multiple formats in plain English, supplemented by a hard copy of the fee schedule in the workers’ first language, before being issued their payroll card.
  • Allow workers to withdraw wages and verify account balances free of charge by telephone and at an accessible network of ATMs.
  • Ban inappropriate fees for basic account information, declines, overdraft fees, and other fees that constitute a barrier to a worker’s free access to their wages.

Find the full report here. 



Contact: Dallas Donnell,, 215-870-7076

             Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236

DC Mayor Bowser Short-Changes Tipped Workers
Restaurant workers call for citywide minimum-wage raise to $15
to include all DC workers 

Washington, D.C. – As a popular ballot measure is poised to increase the minimum wage for all of DC’s workers, Mayor Muriel Bowser has decided to forego the will of the people with a woefully inadequate initiative of her own. The Mayor’s proposed bill to the DC Council to raise the citywide minimum wage for $15 an hour by 2020 would leave the tipped wage discrepancy in place, with tipped subminimum wage reaching $7.50 an hour by 2022.

“Mayor Bowser’s heart is in the right place but she’s completely out of sync with the people of DC on this proposal,” says Gaby Madriz, Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of DC (ROC-DC). “Our initiative calls for $15 for all. It’s really that simple. That means every single DC workers with no exceptions, and polls suggest that’s more popular than the mayor herself. If she can’t get the entire job done and establish one fair wage for all low-wage workers in DC, then Mayor Bowser should get out of the way and let the people act.”

Tipped workers, primarily restaurant workers, have endured an unending cycle of neglect from politicians who show more concern for paid lobbyists and corporate campaign donors than for the constituents whom they are elected to serve. That’s exactly why our organizations have come together, to deliver democracy to the people through a direct ballot measure to ensure that DC workers lead the charge in making One Fair Wage a reality on the East Coast.

The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in DC is just $2.77 an hour.  “Along with DC Working Families, ROC-DC is leading a multi-stakeholder coalition of DC residents, workers, leaders, and activists to help the thousands of workers in DC caught in this poverty wage trap,” said Madriz.

ROC has launched a campaign to eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in cities and states across the nation. The campaign for One Fair Wage urges lawmakers to end the two-tiered minimum wage system that pays workers who customarily are paid by their employers as little as the federal rate of $2.13 per hour, also adopted by 17 states. Nationally, ROC has found that more than two-thirds of tipped workers are women. Mayor Bowser’s proposal, while increasing the minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers aims to lift tipped workers up to $7.50 by 2022 while all other workers would receive a minimum wage of $15.00 by 2020.

“Leaving out tipped workers means leaving out women,” according to Jessica Wynter Martin, a tipped worker who resides in Ward 7. “When both leading Democratic Presidential candidates, more than 80% of DC voters agree that it’s time to end slave wages — and seven states including California have done just that and seen their restaurant industries grow — what exactly is stopping Mayor Bowser from doing the right thing? Tipped workers and our families refuse to settle for the crumbs of Mayor Bowser’s ‘reform.’”

Delvone Michael of DC Working Families and the co-chair of DC for $15, remarked, “We are proud to welcome the Mayor to the growing movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 for DC’s hard working families. At the same time, we are disappointed that she has decided to not fully include tipped workers in her proposal. No one who works full time, especially tipped workers, should be forced to live in poverty. This proposal is a step in the right direction but it does not get us to where we need to be. That’s why DC Working Families remains as committed as ever to putting a $15 minimum wage on the ballot so DC voters, not lobbyists or political insiders, can decide this important issue.”

The DC for $15 coalition seeks to add a question to the November 2016 general election ballot that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 with a more gradual phase-in for tipped workers to reach $15 per hour by 2024.

The DC ballot measure is also similar to a bill that was just introduced this morning in nearby Baltimore to increase the city minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and raise the minimum wage for tipped workers — currently at the Maryland rate of $3.63 per hour — to $15 per hour by 2025 and eliminate the two-tiered wage system thereafter.


About Restaurant Opportunities Centers United -

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 18,000 worker-members, 200 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members in 15 states in the U.S., winning 15 worker-led campaigns, recovering $10 million in stolen tips and wages.


March 31, 2016
Contact: Dallas Donnell,, 215-870-7076
              Tim Rusch,, 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
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Food Shift
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
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
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

Working Below the Line: How the Subminimum Wage for Tipped Restaurant Workers Violates International Human Rights Standards

In collaboration with the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center and the UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic, ROC United released the report “Working Below the Line” on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2015.

The report finds the two-tiered minimum wage system violates several provisions of international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially for women and workers of color.

Under the current two-tiered wage system, federal law allows employers to pay workers who earn tips a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour. As a result, several international human rights standards are not met for these workers, including:

- An adequate standard of living and to fair compensation: Although international labor standards require states to enable workers to maintain a suitable standard of living and to “just and favorable remuneration,” federal law allows tipped restaurant workers to be paid less than the regular minimum wage. As a result, these workers are at least two times more likely to live in poverty than the general U.S. population. “Wage theft” and other wage violations by employers is also a significant problem.

–  Protection from discrimination based on gender and race: Sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination abound across the restaurant industry. One investigation concluded that workers in food services accounted for 37 percent of all claims of sexual harassment with the federal government during a 10-month period in 2011. Furthermore, workers of color in restaurant industry are concentrated in the lowest-paid “front and back of the house” occupations such as cooks, dishwashers, bussers, and runners while non-Hispanic whites are disproportionately found in higher paid “front of the house” positions like wait staff and managers.

– Health & Medical Care: Access to affordable basic and preventive healthcare is beyond the reach of many tipped restaurant workers. A 2011 survey of over 4,000 restaurant workers found that 90% did not have access to health insurance through their employer.

Find the Executive Summary here.

Find the full report here.


Working Below The Line

Behind the Kitchen Door: Extreme Inequality and Opportunity in Houston’s Vibrant Restaurant Economy

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Houston’s latest report is the most comprehensive examination to date of the Houston-area restaurant industry, drawing on 553 worker surveys, 27 structured interviews with restaurant workers and 13 employer interviews, along with other industry and government data. The study offers a vivid picture of the state of the industry and makes recommendations to improve Houston’s economic development, public health and workplace conditions for the city’s restaurant workers.

Houston is America’s fastest-growing city and its vibrant restaurant industry has been called the “most dynamic and diverse food and drink scene in the nation.” However, research indicates that the restaurant workers whose labor makes Houston’s growth possible are being left behind. The majority of restaurant jobs in Houston remain low-road jobs defined by low wages, few benefits, and poor working conditions.

Key findings include:

  • 51% of Houston’s restaurant workers are paid an hourly wage that would not support a family of three above the poverty level. Workers also reported overtime and minimum wage violations, a lack of training, and unsafe workplaces.

  • 51.9% of restaurant workers of color earn below poverty wages, as opposed to 34.3% of white restaurant workers. White workers earn a median wage of $11.82, compared to $8.32 among workers of color.

  • Nearly all (93.1%) of surveyed workers were not offered employer-provided health insurance, and almost two-thirds (61.3%) have no health insurance at all. As a product of not having access to healthcare or paid sick leave, many workers are preparing and handling food while sick.

The report also offers solutions specific to policymakers, employers, customers, and workers, including:

  • For workers: Policy makers should support legislation that ensures workers have access to paid sick days, increase the minimum wage, and raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers to match the overall minimum wage. They should also support job-training programs, ensure that restaurant workers and their families have affordable access to healthcare, and protect workers from erratic scheduling and violations of federal, state, and local anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws.

  • For employers: Adopt systematic and fair hiring and promotions practices — including anti-discrimination and harassment policies — and enhance job quality and employee retention by increasing wages and developing scheduling practices that meet both employer and worker needs.

  • For customers: Support responsible restaurant owners who provide fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for workers to advance.Speak to employers every time you eat out and let them know you care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the restaurant industry.

Find the full report here.

Behind the Kitchen Door: The Highs and Lows of Seattle’s Booming Restaurant Economy

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Seattle’s latest report is the most comprehensive examination to date of the Seattle-area restaurant industry. The report draws on 524 worker surveys and 15 structured interviews with restaurant workers in King County, along with other industry and government data. It offers a vivid portrait of the state of the industry, and makes recommendations that will improve Seattle’s economic development, public health, as well as workplace conditions for the city’s restaurant workers.

Our research demonstrates that although the industry holds great potential in the wake of positive steps taken by legislators and high-road employers, major areas for improvement remain. Many restaurant jobs in the Seattle area are low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions. Our report also unearths a range of serious problems related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities.

Key findings include:

  • Despite promising steps to ensure higher wages, far too many low-wage restaurant employees are still not feeling the effects; 42.7% reported earning poverty wages. And despite a law requiring paid sick leave, only 37.4% of restaurant workers in Seattle are aware of the law and 73.5% report that they don’t have access to paid sick leave.

  • The vast majority of Seattle’s restaurant workers do not receive workplace benefits such as employer-provided health coverage (87.7%). In fact, 28.4% do not have any form of health insurance coverage at all, and 11.4% report having gone to the emergency room without being able to pay in the past year.

  • Seattle’s restaurant industry is anything but a level playing field for people of color and women. 56.7% of Asian workers, 59.8% of Black workers, and 77.4% of Latino workers worked in the Back of the House, compared to 47.8% of white workers. Furthermore, 38% of Front-of-the-House positions are occupied by workers of color, compared to 57.3% of Back-of-the-House positions. Women make up 22.6% of fine dining positions, compared to 57.2% of casual full-service restaurant occupations.

The report also offers possible solutions specific to policymakers, employers, customers, and workers, including:

  • For workers: Policymakers must strengthen and enforce employment laws in the restaurant industry that raise the tipped minimum wage, provide affordable access to health care, and protect workers from discrimination, harassment, and erratic scheduling. Policymakers should also increase awareness and understanding of those laws, support job training programs, and publicly support collective organizing among restaurant workers.

  • For employers: Adopt systematic and fair hiring, promotions, and scheduling practices, increase wages, and clearly communicate to workers about their benefits, as well as anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures.

  • For customers: Support responsible restaurant owners who provide fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for workers to advance, and speak to employers every time you eat out and let them know you care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the restaurant industry.

Seattle has made tremendous strides toward improving working conditions for low-wage workers by enacting laws that require employers to offer paid leave, setting limits on the use of conviction and arrest records in hiring, and raising the minimum wage towards a living wage. However, there is clearly far more work to be done. We hope this report can help guide employers toward the High Road of sustainability, and legislators toward policies that ensure dignity and fairness for the city’s restaurant workers. ROC-Seattle stands ready and willing to act as a resource through every step of that process.

Find the full report here.