Nearly 1,000 Public Comments Sent to DOL on New Rules to Protect and Raise Wages for Restaurant Workers, Federal Contractors Nationwide

August 11, 2021

The ‘#StoptheSideWork’ campaign to reduce wage theft in restaurants and the $15 for federal contractors’ campaign has reached a milestone this week, as nearly 1,000 restaurant workers across the country submitted their public comments in support of the new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rules. 

The proposed side work DOL rule would create greater limitations on an employer’s ability to pay restaurant workers a subminimum wage under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In addition, under the proposed DOL rule, it would raise the wages to $15 per hour for  all contract workers, including those who receive the tipped minimum wage, with the federal government.

“Restaurant workers are completely the driving force behind this campaign. It’s remarkable to see that they are strongly engaged in this grassroots campaign to ensure them the living wages and job security that they deserve,” said Dr. Sekou Siby, president and CEO of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United.

From California and Nevada to Tennessee and Florida, restaurant workers of diverse backgrounds started submitting their public comments last month. By mid-August, three weeks before the DOL’s August 23rd deadline, the number of comments had dramatically gone up.   

“Not only does tipped minimum wage side work add hours of essentially free labor to servers’ shifts, but it also puts pressure on overworked managers to cut staff and do the side work themselves. I have personally seen an increase in manager burnout due to this dynamic,” said Anne Motlow, a restaurant worker in Jackson, WY.

If adopted, the new side work DOL rule will protect restaurant workers’ ability to earn tips—especially if they earn the federal subminimum of $2.13 per hour. This rule reduces wage theft by clearly defining a “tipped occupation,” so restaurant workers spend the bulk of their time providing direct service to customers. 

The DOL’s proposed definition would limit sidework to 20 percent of a restaurant worker’s time, or a maximum of 30 minutes per day, prohibiting employers from taking advantage of workers through excessive amounts of non-tip-generating work.

“One thing, for sure, is clear: restaurant workers want to be heard. They are stepping up to the plate to call for fair and equitable labor laws,” said Dr. Teófilo Reyes, chief programs officer at ROC United.