The federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 today. And that’s good news, unless you happen to be a bartender or waiter.
According to a report released by the National Employment Law Project, the wage for tipped employees will remain a measly $2.13 per hour. That rate, the report says, has gone unchanged since 1991, and adds up to “just $4,430 per year for a full-time worker.” Furthermore, since it was frozen, the wage’s value has “fallen 36% in real terms.”
Women with families to support are disproportionately affected by the low hourly wage, and have seen their pay further decreased by the bad economy, which has meant smaller tips. As a result, the report says, “waitresses and waiters–the largest group of tipped workers–have three times the poverty rate of the workforce as a whole.”
The solution, according to the report, is a higher minimum wage paid directly by employers, something many states’ minimum wage laws already do. Those laws have raised living standards for tipped workers without hurting business, the report finds, and should serve as inspiration for Congressional legislation. In addition to urging Congress to urge the minimum wage for tipped workers, the report suggests an automatic increase to their minimum wage when the full minimum wage increases; strengthening protection against “tip stealing” by managers or employers; and combating attempts to roll back tipped worker minimum wage in states that already offer worker protection.
The issue holds particular relevance in New York, where abuse of restaurant workers has become increasingly documented, thanks in part to several lawsuits filed by Chinese deliverymen against restaurants including Ollie’s and Saigon Grill.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 24, 2009