Restaurant Workers Refuse to Go Back to Poverty Wage Jobs


When we negotiate with power for better wages, we rarely fight for everyone. In fact, some of the first groups we negotiate out of the discussion are restaurant workers and tipped workers. Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage has been a fierce advocate for this particular group of workers, and she explains why in a recent interview on The Rick Smith Show:

Saru: “The wages in the restaurant industry were set at emancipation of slavery in 1865 when the restaurant industry wanted the ability to hire black people not pay them anything and and get free labor that lived on nothing but tips; and that is the origin of a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers which became law and has resulted in the wage in the restaurant industry being $2.13 an hour for tipped workers today, slightly higher in 40 states out of 50 [but] their wages are still five dollars or less. And it has been ridiculous for a long time. It took a pandemic for millions of workers to say enough is enough.”

Many GOP governors and state legislatures are beginning to pull unemployment benefits from workers in an attempt to force people back into these jobs. However, the plan isn’t working for one simple reason: The majority of these workers never made enough in wages to collect UI (enhanced or otherwise) in the first place. So for all the political posturing and worker shaming going on, none if it is likely to actually lead to these workers retuning to their poverty wage gigs.

Saru: “We just did a survey of 3,000 workers: 53% that are left say they’re leaving the industry;  76% say the top reason they’re leaving is low wages and tips; 78%, nearly 8 in 10, say the only thing that would make them stay in a restaurant or come back is a full livable wage with tips on top.”

We call them essential, and indeed they are. It’s time to pay them that way.

See Saru’s article “Restaurant Workers Say They Won’t Return to Work Without a Living Wage” in HERE.

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