Survey: Restaurant Sector 'Unlivable' for Many Women Workers
Friday, April 22, 2022
As the weather warms up, tourists will flock to South Dakota to visit sites like Mount Rushmore, stopping at restaurants along the way. As they sit down to eat, they may not realize a new national survey found women working in the hospitality field describe a worsening environment of harassment and wage theft.
The findings are from the group One Fair Wage. Half of all women and nearly six in 10 women of color said they are not getting enough tips to earn the full minimum wage required by law, and 73% of women report regularly experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment by customers.
Saru Jayaraman, president of the group One Fair Wage, said women have been the face of establishments during the pandemic.
"Asking me to enforce these COVID rules, vaccination card rules, mask rules, social distancing rules on the very same people from whom I have to get tips to survive? That is unlivable," Jayaraman asserted.
She pointed out harassment includes a customer threatening to not tip unless the server removes her mask to show what she looks like. The group noted while some independent restaurants are improving their wages, many national chains are not.
A bill in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour faces hurdles amid debate it could lead to job losses.
The bill also would prohibit subminimum wages for tipped employees. They get a smaller base pay, with the difference covered by tips or the employer to reach the state level. But Jayaraman argued the requirement to cover what's left is often violated.
She added because servers are overwhelmingly women, men working in kitchens or in management can use it to their advantage.
"Women, who are mostly in the front of the house serving people, are so reliant on pleasing the customer," Jayaraman explained. "That gives power to the managers to say, 'If you do me a sexual favor, I'll give you certain shifts. I'll give you certain tables that will guarantee you'll make more money in tips.' "
The federal subminimum wage is $2.13 an hour. South Dakota's is higher at $4.55, but advocates say it should join the group of states ending a separate minimum wage for tipped workers. The survey was conducted in March, with feedback from nearly 400 respondents.
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