I worked as a server for a steakhouse in Louisville, Ky for over 5 years. I have seen numerous incidences of workers being threatened with termination for calling in sick without a note from a doctor. These employees did not have health insurance and could not afford to pay out of pocket for an office visit. They would be forced to come to work and serve food while sick. I have also seen employees who cannot afford to miss a shift and therefore choose to come to work while sick. A close friend of mine was actually in labor and was pressured by management to finish her shift before leaving for the hospital. I have seen cooks working while sick. I saw a grill cook who was actually vomiting in the kitchen and then continued to work because he was pressured by management to stay and finish his shift. I myself have attempted to call in sick and was told that it was my responsibility to call all of my coworkers and find someone willing to cover for me, and that if I could not find someone, I would still be expected to come to work. I have personally been retaliated against and have witnessed the same with coworkers for discussing pay, hours and working conditions. I have witnessed and experienced retaliations for not tipping out bussers, bartenders and hostesses. During the last year I worked for this restaurant, they phased out the bussers and required the servers to take on the additional duty of bussing and wiping down their own tables. This meant carrying twice as many heavy plates and glasses to the kitchen and taking the time to walk them to the dish area and unload them there. All of this was taking time away from our tables and our customers, affecting our ability to do our jobs effectively and therefore taking away from our tips. This was expected of us even during very high-volume shifts.

Simply put, we were required to do our own work plus these additional duties with no increase in our pay. When this took effect, most servers were unhappy with the change but would be retaliated against for speaking up about it. This establishment also had a consistently biased and/or incompetent host staff. By this I mean that servers were not seated with tables in a fair or logical way. One server may be seated with a new table every ten minutes, while another would go an hour or more without being seated with a new table. This would depend upon a host favoring a server, or being poorly trained or unsupervised. This was another issue that greatly affected a server’s potential to make tips. One night, a member of management heard me discussing this issue with another server and she pulled me aside and threatened me with termination if I continued to discuss the problem with any co-worker. The only employees in this restaurant who were permitted to take breaks were those who were under 18 years of age or those who were working “doubles.”

The only way a server would receive a break was if we were on a shift longer than 8 hours. Even then, we would only be given a break if there was another server available to watch our section. We would have to demand to be given a break if we wanted one. I have also witnessed multiple members of management allow breaks for some employees while refusing breaks for others. I have seen this happen numerous times.

Living off tips is something no one should have to do. Living off tips is demeaning. Living off tips often feels hopeless.