Today, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United President Saru Jayaraman walks the red carpet at the Golden Globes as the invited guest of actor Amy Poehler, to raise awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.
Saru and seven other labor rights and gender justice organizers are joining actresses who founded the #TIMESUP initiative, a project of prominent women in the entertainment industry that will support survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault across all industries through a legal defense fund. The #TIMESUP initiative shines a light on the millions of women who face exclusion and marginalization, such as low-wage restaurant workers.
“I am here tonight in honor of the women servers, bussers, bartenders, runners, cooks, and hosts who experience the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the country. Tipped workers in our industry earn a federal minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour from their employers, and must tolerate extreme harassment from customers in order to earn enough in tips to feed their families. Managers encourage these women to subject themselves to objectification in order to make more money in tips, and this makes them vulnerable to co-worker and manager harassment as well.”
Half of all American adults work in the restaurant industry at some point in their lifetime, and millions of young women work in restaurants as their first job, introducing them to a world of work in which sexual harassment is normalized – even encouraged – in order to please the customer and earn a livable wage in tips. In fact, many of the Hollywood actresses at the Golden Globes and beyond worked as servers in their youth and were impacted by their early experience in the restaurant industry. ROC’s research on sexual harassment in the restaurant industry shows that over two-thirds of all women in the industry have experienced harassment from management, customers, and co-workers.
This extreme harassment can be traced largely to the subminimum wage system – in 43 states, tipped restaurant workers are paid a lower wage, some as low as the $2.13 federal tipped minimum wage. Under these conditions, women workers have little leverage to push back against inappropriate customer behavior.
Saru highlighted a critical policy solution addressing sexual harassment in the restaurant industry: One Fair Wage, or the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers. Seven states, including California, have eliminated the lower wage for tipped workers, and have half the rate of sexual harassment as the 43 states with lower wages for tipped workers. This is because women in California and the six other One Fair Wage states receive a full wage from their employer and do not have to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior in order to feed their families in tips. No other intervention has this potential.
One Fair Wage is gaining momentum in New York, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. Recognizing the link between the subminimum wage and sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a proposal to eliminate the subminimum wage as part of his annual State of the State package. If this proposal advances, it will represent one of the most significant policy victories of the #metoo moment.
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