Moving From Victims to Protagonists: Tipped Workers In The #MeToo Era Are Making Strides

New York, NY – In the year since the #MeToo movement first went viral, advocates fighting to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers say enormous strides to end the two-tiered pay system — and the sexual harassment it spawns — have been made. And the reason? Working women standing together in solidarity across all sectors declaring, “enough is enough.” 

ROC-United’s Saru Jayaraman.

“It’s been extraordinary for women of different sectors to stand up together,” Saru Jayaraman, head of ROC-United [Restaurant Opportunities Center] told reporters during a Monday morning conference call. “The changing point for us — the moment that allowed us to see so much progress — was women from different worker organizations standing together.” 

The changing point for us — the moment that allowed us to see so much progress — was women from different worker organizations standing together. — Saru Jayaraman, ROC-United

So far, seven states around the country have ended the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and adopted a One Fair Wage [OFW]. According to ROC-United, cases of sexual harassment involving tipped workers in those seven OFW states have been cut in half — while also slashing the poverty rate for tipped workers by 20-percent and food stamp usage by 21-percent. 

“Throughout my [30] years in the [restaurant] industry, no matter the position I held, there was always some type of sexual harassment,” Yonkers resident Tara Vines said. “Whether it came from management, customers, co-workers — there was always some form. And unless you had an owner or a manager who actually cared about their workers, you had nowhere to go. There was nowhere to turn.”

Over the last year, Jayaraman said that women in the restaurant industry fighting for One Fair Wage and an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, have endured constant attacks — even death threats — but, nevertheless, moved from “victims to protagonists.” 

“What we have seen, what we have witnessed, is women in the restaurant industry standing up in the face of very severe attacks,” Jayaraman said. “In the face of very severe attacks, still being willing to stand up and demand change; stand up and say to city councils and to state legislatures and to Congress, that ‘enough is enough.’”

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers — unchanged since 1991 — still sits at an astonishing $2.13 an-hour. Two-thirds of the six million tipped workers nationwide are women — 44-percent of them women of color. 

A ROC-United report released this past spring, found sexual harassment “endemic” in the restaurant industry with “the vast majority of workers reporting sexual harassment.”

Despite serious and sustained pushback from the restaurant industry, Jayraraman said that the last year has also seen a “tremendous industry shift,” as well. 

“We’ve gone from 200 restaurants working with us to 700, with many more restaurants approaching us every day,” Jayaraman said. “A lot of these employers, and even some local restaurants associations, are saying we’ve really got to stop being the party of no; we have to be the party of how, because it’s clear that this [sub-minimum wage] model is unsustainable; both on the issue of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and with regard to the industry — because the industry is going through one of the worst labor shortages in its history.” 


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