One of my first jobs was at a restaurant inside a beat up casino in South Jersey that doesn’t exist anymore. I was one of two or three women who worked front of the house in a variety of shifts with a majority-male kitchen. I loved the job at the time because I could get a meal if I worked the right hours. Looking back, I’m apt to consider more closely how gender played into my experience of working as a tipped minimum wage young woman worker.
Women are nearly two thirds of minimum wage earners nationally. Women workers in New York’s restaurant industry, where I now live, face high rates of economic insecurity. The vast majority of tipped restaurant workers in New York State are women, including 73 percent of New York’s 140,000 servers. New York law permits these workers to earn a sub-minimum wage of just $5 per hour–or roughly $200 per week for a full-time job. As a result, tipped restaurant workers rely on tips to survive.
As explained by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of NY (ROC-NY), these issues all intersect and fall along lines of race, class, gender, and more:
“A server making the tipped minimum wage of $5 per hour may not be able to afford a doctor’s visit or may not have the luxury of taking time off from work to access reproductive healthcare needs. A woman whose ability to pay rent or to feed her children depends on her customers’ generosity, may feel less comfortable standing up to sexual harassment. And a pregnant woman living off tips may opt against taking a much-needed bathroom break for fear that any delay will be reflected in the tips her customers leave.”
Today, from 1-2pm EST ROC-NY is organizing a #LivingOffTipsNY Twitter rally to urge Governor Cuomo to fulfill his promise to convene a Wage Board so that tipped restaurant workers can finally get the raise they deserve. I encourage you to join them!
Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing.