October 16, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Activists pushing legislators to scrap the sub-minimum wage for restaurant workers this week are predicting that the Empire State will soon eliminate the current system that not only leaves too many in poverty – but also treats working women like items on the menu.
On Tuesday, October 14, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick [D-66th District] joined the Restaurant Opportunities Center [ROC-United] and others at a rally outside City Hall where she vowed to drive legislation in January aimed at ending New York’s $5 sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.
“I am pledging to you that I will use all of my energy towards moving New York in a more progressive fashion, so that women who work hard don’t have to put up with nonsense from drunken fools in order to be able to go home with a decent tip,” the assemblywoman said.
According to a newly-released ROC-United report called, “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” women working in states like New York where tipped workers earn less than the minimum wage are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment on the job as those working in states where there is no sub-minimum wage.
“The system actually forces women to tolerate whatever consumers might do to them because the consumer pays their bills and not the employer,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director, ROC-United. “And in states like New York that have a lower wage for tipped workers, management is three-times more likely to encourage these women to actually objectify themselves – show more cleavage, dress sexier – to get the income in tips.”
Playwright Eve Ensler, creator of “The Vagina Monologues” and co-founder of the 1 Billion Rising gender equality campaign, said that things haven’t changed for female workers since she was a waitress some 30 years ago.
“The wage hasn’t changed, the sexual harassment hasn’t changed, the outfits I was forced to wear haven’t changed – and the abuse hasn’t changed,” Ensler said. “It is a shame that in the year 2014, we don’t honor the work of women.”
Last week, Labor Press reported the story of Bronx iron worker LaFondra Brown who walked off the job after allegedly being sexually harassed by supervisors. The allegations have spurred City Councilman Andy King to start investigating the company where Brown worked before going on strike.
The entire West Coast of the country, along with several other states have already scrapped the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.
California civil rights attorney Noreen Farell said that despite pushback from the National Restaurant Association, the “sky has not fallen” in the Golden State, and businesses have not gone bankrupt.
“The price of a paycheck can’t be getting harassed and groped and compromised every single day,” Farell said.
Women represent roughly 70 percent of all tipped workers in New York.
Councilman Brad Lander [D-39th District] said that the challenge for the state is helping the public understand that perpetuating a system of inequality that unfairly targets a huge segment of the workforce is “completely unacceptable.”
Despite the challenges, Jayaraman is confident that New York’s sub-minimum wage is on the way out.
“We’ve got bills in 10 states,” Jayaraman told LaborPress. “If it doesn’t happen in New York, it’ll happen in surrounding states – and New York will have to follow.”