Tipped Over the Edge – Gender Inequity in the Restaurant Industry

Our “Tipped Over the Edge” was released on Capitol Hill by U.S. Representative Donna Edwards and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and other major research and advocacy organizations, including Family Values @ Work, HERVotes Coalition, the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, MomsRising, National Coalition On Black Civic Participation’s Black Women’s Roundtable,  National Council For Research On Women, National Organization For Women, National Partnership For Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, Wider Opportunities For Women, Women Of Color Policy Network (NYU Wagner), and 9to5 National Association for Working Women.

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The report shows that women who work in the industry face systematic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days, and five times more harassment than the general female workforce. One major cause of poverty for these working women is that restaurant lobbyists have succeeded in keeping the federal minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers frozen at only $2.13 per hour for the past 20 years.

Findings in the report include the following:

Profiting from poverty.

- Since 52% of all restaurant workers are women, but 66% of tipped workers are women, the lower minimum wage for tipped workers is essentially creating legalized gender inequity in the restaurant industry. In most industries, the gender wage gap is due to employer discrimination, but in the restaurant industry, it’s also a matter of law.

- Seven of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Most of these occupations are majority female and pay median wages below the poverty line.

- Servers – of whom 71 percent are female – are almost three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line than the general workforce and nearly twice as likely to need food stamps as the general population.

- Despite having the same poverty rate for the overall workforce of 6.7 percent, states that follow the federal tipped subminimum wage have a much higher poverty rate for servers than states without a subminimum wage (19.4 percent vs. 13.6 percent), and this burden of poverty falls mostly on women.

Discrimination by design.

- The industry follows a conscious business model of confining women to the lower-paid positions within restaurants. Women are hired for only 19 percent of chef positions, for example, even though traditionally most women are more likely to do a majority of the cooking at home.

- In addition, women are confined to the lower-paying segments of the industry such as quick-serve and family style rather than the highest-paying fine dining segment. So even within the same job classification of server, full-time, year-round female servers are paid just 68 percent of what male servers are paid ($17,000 vs. $25,000 annually). Over a work career, that means the industry takes an extra $320,000 from each female server – money that might otherwise make it possible to buy a home or car or send children to college.

Five times more sexual harassment.

- Nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry – more than 5 times the rate for the general female workforce.

Food handling while sick.

- While only 31 percent of U.S. employers don’t provide health coverage for employees, 90 percent of restaurant workers surveyed nationwide reported not being provided employer-paid sick days or health benefits. Two–thirds reported having to cook, prepare, and/or serve food while sick because they could not afford to take unpaid time off.

Unpredictable scheduling.

- Restaurants typically choose not to provide workers with predictability and more than a few days’ advance notice of schedules, a burden that falls hardest on women juggling child care or elder care arrangements.