Category Archives: Research & Resources


The Case for Phasing Out Maine’s Subminimum Wage for Tipped Workers

ROC United has partnered with the National Employment Law Project (NELP) to release The Case for Phasing Out Maine’s Subminimum Wage for Tipped Workers. The report analyzes the impact of maintaining a lower minimum wage for tipped workers and draws from the experience of “One Fair Wage” states and cities that have abolished the subminimum tipped wage.

Residents will soon vote on a ballot initiative in the November 2016 election that, if successful, would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from its current level of $7.50 to $12 per hour by 2020. A $12 minimum wage in Maine by 2020 would raise wages for 181,000 residents. Under current law, employers can pay tipped workers the lower tipped wage as long as gratuities cover the difference between the regular minimum wage and the subminimum tipped wage. Tipped workers include waiters and waitresses, bartenders, food delivery workers, and many others at the heart of important Maine industries like tourism and hospitality. By eliminating the subminimum tipped wage, the ballot initiative would directly address the economic insecurity and high rates of sexual harassment that uniquely affect the nearly 24,000 tipped workers in Maine.

Key findings include:

  • The outmoded subminimum tipped wage promotes poverty wages and un- stable incomes for a tipped workforce that is 79 percent female in Maine
  • While a small number of tipped workers are employed at high-end restaurants where they earn a signi cant amount in tips that translate into higher incomes, high-earning servers are a small minority and not representative of tipped workers in Maine.
  • Eight percent of all workers in Maine live in poverty, but Maine’s tipped workers experience poverty at over twice that rate.
  • People of color feel the impact of the tipped subminimum wage even more sharply—a quarter of tipped workers of color in Maine live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of white tipped workers.
  • With a base wage of $3.75 per hour, Maine’s tipped workers depend almost entirely on tips for their income. This forces servers to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers, and leaves them vulnerable to objectification and harassment from coworkers and management.
  • The nation’s top wage enforcement experts at the U.S. Department of Labor report that the complex subminimum tipped wage system is so complicated that it is difficult to enforce and results in high rates of noncompliance by employers.
  • Contrary to opponents’ predictions, raising the subminimum wage while prohibiting a lower tipped subminimum wage has not led restaurants to abolish tipping and has not led diners to reduce tipping levels.
  • The restaurant industry is strong in the seven One Fair Wage states, demonstrating that it is economically feasible to phase out the subminimum tipped wage without harming restaurant jobs or sales. In fact, restaurant employment in the seven One Fair Wage states is projected to grow in the next ten years by 10.7 percent, while Maine’s restaurant employment rate is projected to grow 7.6 percent during that same period.

Full report here


Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise and Denial of Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry

Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise and Denial of Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry draws on 500 worker surveys, 20 structured interviews with restaurant workers, and 20 structured interviews with employers in Greater Boston, along with other industry and government data, to offer the most comprehensive analysis to date of working conditions in the Boston Area restaurant industry. This research demonstrates that the majority of Boston Area restaurant industry jobs are low-road jobs, defined by low wages, few benefits, and dangerous and often unlawful workplace conditions.

However, the report reveals that there are a minority of restaurants that succeed by investing in their workforce, offering benefits, opportunities for advancement, and livable wages. The report captures a range of problems with restaurant working conditions related to the availability of wages and benefits, workplace violations, and job-specific training opportunities. In particular, Boston-area workers who depend on tips for their wages are more likely to experience sexual harassment and wage theft, including the misappropriation of tips and service charges, overtime, and off-the-clock violations.

Key findings include:

  • Thirty-five percent of Boston’s tipped workers report they have been sexually harassed by customers, over twice as many as other workers in our survey. Tipped workers were also more likely to experience overtime violations and work off the clock without pay than restaurant workers overall.
  • Thirty-six percent of restaurant workers reported earning wages below the lower-living-standard wage – the wage required for a full-time, full-year worker to reach a lower living standard for a family of three. A majority do not have access to paid sick days and, as a result, have prepared or served food while sick. Twenty-two percent of restaurant workers do not have any form of health insurance coverage.
  • Nearly half of workers that worked over 40 hours a week in the past 12 months reported being paid less than the legally mandated overtime rate, in violation of state and federal laws. Thirty-eight percent of restaurant workers worked off the clock without pay in the last 12 months, and nearly six in ten workers say they worked 8 hours without a paid break in the last 12 months.
  • According to this report’s findings, most restaurant workers do not receive regular raises, did not move up in position from their last restaurant job to their current job, and do not receive the on-going training they need to advance in position in the restaurant industry.
  • Forty-one percent of restaurant workers reported that it gets unsafely hot in the kitchen, twenty-eight said there are fire hazards in their restaurant, and over a third reported their kitchen does not have mats on the floor to prevent slipping. As a result, cuts, burns, falls, and chronic pain are widespread amongst Boston’s restaurant industry workforce.
  • Workers of color disproportionately occupy lower-level positions and work in lower-level segments on the industry, while white workers disproportionately occupy higher-paying ‘Front-of-the-House’ fine dining positions, the only livable wage jobs in the industry.

Read the full report.


NIGHTCARE: The Growing Challenge for Parents on the Late Shift

NIGHTCARE: The Growing Challenge for Parents on the Late Shift is the most comprehensive examination to date of the childcare needs of America’s restaurant workers. Drawing from outreach and case management with over 2000 restaurant workers in New York over the past two years, as well as a previous ROC United report — “The Third Shift: Child Care Needs and Access for Working Mothers in Restaurants,” NIGHTCARE offers a vivid picture of the unique hardships faced by restaurant workers, specifically tipped workers striving to support a family on the separate, lower subminimum wage.

“NIGHTCARE: The Growing Challenge for Parents on the Late Shift” is available at:

ROC’s research demonstrates that, with the continued growth of the restaurant industry, an increasing number of low-wage workers must work in the evening or at night, and thus depend on childcare after regular business hours, otherwise known as “nightcare.” The tipped minimum wage — an abysmal $2.13 per hour at the federal level — exacerbates this problem by forcing tipped restaurant workers toward evening and weekend shifts where the earning potential for tips is highest. However, nightcare is often inaccessible for restaurant workers, either due to location or cost, causing tremendous strain on workers and their families.

ROC United Co-Founder/Co-Director, Saru Jayaraman said, “Living off tips force unique and incredible hardship on the lives of tipped workers, the lionshare of whom are women and people of color. A whopping nineteen percent of restaurant workers live in poverty in New York State, and nearly half (48%) live at or below the poverty line. Among single moms the rates are higher, with 35% living in poverty, and 70% living at or below the poverty line. For them, evening shifts, and thus nightcare, are essential to make ends meet.” She continues, “A dependable wage for all workers, regardless of shift, would reduce the premium parents who are tipped workers place on those late shifts where tips are highest.”

Key findings include:

– A growing number of low-wage workers depend on nightcare for their children that is affordable and in their neighborhood. Tipped workers are oftentimes uniquely dependent on nightcare, since they earn as low as $2.13 per hour and must vie for the highest earning shifts at night and on weekends, when tips are highest, in order to maximize their income.

– Nightcare is largely inaccessible through licensed providers, forcing workers to depend on informal and underground networks to provide for their children. There are few licensed nightcare providers, and limited efforts to assist with licensing or expansion of coverage.

– The lack of affordable nightcare in one’s neighborhood has led many restaurant workers to supplement their income or switch their occupation and engage in child care work, in particular during their children’s early years.

– In the absence of accessible licensed nightcare, unlicensed providers that specialize in nightcare for low-wage workers like restaurant workers and security guards have grown in number.

Possible solutions include:

– Policymakers should respond to the growing need for nightcare by increasing the provision of affordable nightcare and ensuring it is accessible in workers’ neighborhoods

– Policymakers should support programmatic interventions allowing the restaurant industry to ‘grow our own,’ and draw upon restaurant workers’ child care experience to help license restaurant workers as nightcare providers focused on the restaurant industry, expand existing nightcare providers, and help license existing unlicensed providers.

– Policymakers should follow the lead of high road employers and eliminate the subminimum wage and raise the minimum wage, thereby reducing demand for nightcare in the restaurant industry by making daytime shifts as lucrative as nighttime positions.

Find the full report here:


Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise of Opportunity in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Area Restaurant Industry

In June 2016, ROC-The Bay released findings from one of the largest studies to date on the Bay Area’s restaurant workforce. “Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise of Opportunity in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Area Restaurant Industry” draws on 525 worker surveys, 41 structured interviews with restaurant workers, and 20 structured interviews with employers, along with other industry and government data. The report details a range of problems with restaurant working conditions related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities.

Occupational segregation across the Bay Area is of particular concern, impacting the wages workers are able to earn. Workers of color experience a $6.12 wage disparity compared to white workers, and women experience a $3.34 wage disparity compared to men in fine dining occupations. This race pay gap is the largest ROC United has found around the country.

Key findings include:

  • The Bay Area’s restaurant industry is not a level playing field for people of color. White workers are more likely to work in higher-paying, Front-of-the-House positions, like bartenders and servers. Over half of all bartenders are white, despite being less than a quarter of the restaurant workforce overall. Additionally, workers of color are less likely to receive a raise or promotion than their white counterparts.

  • The same goes for women. Although they make up the vast majority of servers and bartenders, including servers in fine dining, they are dramatically underrepresented among bartenders in fine dining. Women surveyed made up 67% of all full service restaurant servers, and 84% of servers in fine dining, but only 41% of full service and 30% of fine dining bartending staff.

  • Wage violations are rampant. While service charges and tip pools that included Back-of-the-House workers helped balance income disparities between the Front and Back-of-the-House, they also created the potential for abuse as some employers used service charges to compensate supervisors, managers, owners, or to meet other business expenses. Additionally, workers expressed great concern over their ability to control their tips; a whopping 14% of respondents reported that management takes a share of gratuities earned on the job.

  • Exorbitant rent prices and gentrification are also of great concern. Restaurant workers in the Bay Area are paying on average $689 per month in rent, and must commute significant distances from lower-income areas with more affordable rents and sharing housing costs by living with more people. The average restaurant worker in the Bay Area lives in an apartment or home with 4 total residents, and 78.7% of restaurant workers do not work and live in the same city.

  • Many Bay Area employers are taking the High Road and offer living wages, access to benefits, training and advancement. Accordingly, they reported low employee turnover and high productivity as a result of living wages and access to benefits. However, some Bay Area employers lack formalized hiring, training, and promotion practices, and as a result, have reinforced occupational segregation in the restaurant industry.

  • Fair wages and benefits are still too often hard to come by. 52% of respondents report not having any form of health insurance coverage Additionally, twenty percent report having gone to the emergency room without being able to pay in the past year, nearly twice the rate we found in Seattle. Also, despite promising steps to raise wages for low-wage restaurant workers, 20% reported earning poverty wages.

  • Scheduling is anything but predictable. 26% of tipped restaurant workers experience frequent changes in their schedule, and an additional 50% of tipped workers sometimes experience changes in their schedule, compared to 16% and 43% of restaurant workers that do not receive tips. The majority of tipped workers are effectively expected to be on-call by their employers.

  • Workers are not receiving the raises and/or training they deserve. 73% of restaurant workers did not receive a raise in the last year, 22% reported they were passed over for a promotion, raise, or given worse shifts, 57% did not move up in position from their last restaurant job to their current one, and 54% do not receive ongoing job training.

  • Health and safety hazards abound. 91% of workers we spoke with have worked when their restaurant was understaffed. 28.8% reported doing something that put their own safety at risk. 29.3% have done something due to time pressure that might have harmed the health and safety of customers.

Read the full report.

Employer Liability cover

Tipped Over: Employer Liability in a Two-Tiered Wage State

“Tipped Over: Employer Liability in a Two-Tiered Wage State,” examines how rules necessary to regulate the subminimum wage system, including the so-called ‘80-20 Rule,’ create tremendous liabilities for both employers and employees in New York State.

The report underscores that a ‘one fair wage’ system, in which employers pay all workers, including tipped workers, a full fair minimum wage, is necessary to ensure workers are properly paid, and employers are not placed at risk of unnecessary liability.

The study — based on interviews with 40 restaurateurs from New York and nationwide, as well as workers and attorneys —  highlights the significant monitoring and liability incurred by employers in order to ensure compliance with the necessary regulations associated with paying a subminimum wage, as well the increasing gap between a growing minimum wage and a decreasing subminimum wage for tipped workers. This pairing incentivizes employers to increase the workload of tipped workers by shifting tasks away from non-tipped workers. For many employers, tipped workers are now the considerably ‘cheaper’ workers whose wages did not increase. As a result, the number of class action lawsuits filed by workers with regard to violations of regulations associated with the subminimum wage has also increased. “Tipped Over” documents restaurant employers’ experiences of costly liability arising from the complicated rules surrounding paying tipped workers a lower minimum wage.

Key findings include:

  • New York employers face an extensive set of regulations with which they must comply, including (1) strict notification requirements of tip sharing procedures (“tip pools”) that must be signed by each tipped employee; (2) strict prohibitions on including non-tipped employees in a tip pool; (3) strict requirements that tips actually make up the difference between the minimum and subminimum wage each week); and (4) strict requirements that not more than two hours, or 20 percent, of any shift, whichever is less, is spent in performing non-tipped work, or work that is not related to direct service (the ‘80-20 Rule’).
  • Time and money spent monitoring compliance with the above regulations tied to the subminimum wage, such as the ‘80-20 Rule’, prevents employers from spending time training and even hiring new staff.
  • Employers face a tradeoff when concentrating on lawsuits or on hiring: while small employers are better equipped to handle ‘80-20’ by limiting the number of service staff, liability prevents them from growing. Large employers are particularly concerned with the burden of liability, at times dissuading them from making additional hires.
  • A survey of federal lawsuits filed in the Southern District of New York, covering the New York City (NYC) area, and in the Central District of California, covering the Los Angeles (LA) area, show that restaurant lawsuits made up approximately 23 percent of the total in the NYC area in a state with a two-tiered wage system, while making up only 8 percent of the total in the LA area in a state with no two-tiered wage system.

Download the full report here.

Watch a video summarizing key takeaways of the report:

DC report

The Case for Eliminating the Tipped Minimum Wage in Washington, D.C.

In collaboration with the National Employment Law Project (NELP), ROC United released “The Case for Eliminating the Tipped Minimum Wage in Washington, D.C.” in May 2016.

The report responds to legislation to raise D.C.’s wage floor to $15 and increase the subminimum tipped wage to 50 percent of the full minimum wage proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of the District of Columbia. While an improvement compared to current law, the Mayor’s proposal would nonetheless leave behind a significant number of low-wage workers—namely, the nearly 29,000 workers in D.C. that work in predominantly tipped occupations.  Under the current law, employers can pay these workers just $2.77 per hour, as long as tips cover the difference between the regular minimum wage and the subminimum tipped wage.

Being forced to rely largely, or entirely, on tips for income, D.C., tipped workers unsurprisingly experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of other D.C. workers,  and women feel the impact of the tipped minimum wage most acutely—women are twice as likely to live in poverty as the male tipped workers.  And despite the restaurant industry’s claims that tipped servers and bartenders earn high incomes in D.C., the median wage for tipped servers was just $9.58 per hour, including tips, between 2012 and 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This median wage is just slightly higher than the full minimum wage for that period.

ROC-DC member Jessica Martin knows all too well the hardships of living off tips: “Working over 50 hours a week I still never received a paycheck because my wages were too low to cover taxes. We need One Fair Wage to lift thousands of DC workers and residents out of near poverty conditions and institutionalized worker discrimination.”

Tipped workers’ reliance on tip for income also forces them to tolerate sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management.  Workers in states with a tipped minimum wage like D.C. are twice as likely to experience sexually harassing behavior in the workplace, and over 90 percent of restaurant workers surveyed in D.C. reported experiencing some form of sexualized behavior while at work.

The evidence is mounting that the restaurant industry is thriving in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and SeaTac, Washington—all of which have approved a $15 minimum wage for all workers, including tipped workers.  Since Seattle passed its trailblazing $15 minimum wage, the number of food services and beverage industry business licenses issued by the city has increased by 6 percent.  The evidence also shows that a One Fair Wage system will not lead to the elimination of tipping or significant drops in tipping rates. The restaurant industry in D.C. can afford “One Fair Wage”—that is, the elimination of a subminimum wage for tipped workers in favor of one fair wage for all workers.

Find the full report here.