February 25, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Tipped workers across the state have just moved a little bit closer to workplace justice, according to advocates fighting hard to join seven other states around the nation that have already scrapped sub-minimum wages.
Governor Andrew Cuomo this week acted on recommendations to boost the current sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in New York State to $7.50 an hour by year’s end. The action falls short of establishing the “one fair wage” that advocates support, and will not lift many struggling workers out of poverty, or end sexual harassment on the job.
Nevertheless, the Restaurant Opportunities Center [ROC-United], one of the most vocal organizations in the country advocating for tipped workers, is confident that the chief executive and his labor commissioner have taken a concrete step to improving working conditions, while also leaving the door open for the eventual establishment of “one fair wage” for all.
“I think the conversation is still open,” Meg Fosque, national policy directory, ROC-United, told LaborPress.
The governor’s decision this week is based on five Wage Board recommendations – one of which calls for a study to be conducted examining the continued viability of the two-tier minimum wage system in New York.
“Ultimately, our goal is to make that [study[ more than just symbolic, and to keep the conversation going,” Fosque said.
The restaurant industry largely opposes scrapping the sub-minimum wage, citing fears of increased costs to customers.
Advocates for tipped workers, however, point out that being dependent on unreliable gratuities for one’s survival, not only keeps too many in poverty, it also subjects working moms and daughters to on-the-job harassment. Women, who comprise the majority of tipped restaurant workers in New York State, and are dependent on tips, are often too afraid to confront unruly patrons.
ROC-United has already looked at problem in other parts of the county, and found that the incidence of sexual harassment on the job rose as the minimum wage tipped workers earned decreased.
While it applauds the governor’s actions, the group says it will press on with a public education campaign aimed at those who are still unaware that tipped workers earn a lower minimum wage than everyone else in the state. As well as also reaching those who incorrectly believe that the majority of waiters and waitresses in the state work in high-end restaurants like the Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn.
“The majority of tipped workers work in casual fine dining — iHOP, Applebee’s, Olive Garden [and the like],” Fosque said. “They’re barely getting by.”
Over the next few years, advocates for tipped workers say they will continue to frame the elimination of the sub-minimum wage as an important gender issue, as well as an economic one.
“I think it is going to be possible to have one fair wage [after all],” Fosque added.