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Tipped Workers, Industry Advocates Shed Light on Harassment & Assault In Restaurant Industry

Date: 
Fri, 03/30/2018

BOSTON – Senator Patricia Jehlen, Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) Boston hosted a briefing at the State House yesterday calling for One Fair Wage in Massachusetts. The event, titled “#MeToo in the Restaurant Industry,” featured several speakers, including ROC United President and Co-Founder Saru Jayaraman, four tipped workers who testified about their experiences in the Massachusetts service industry, as well as Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Somerville’s Juliet. The women shared their personal stories about economic instability, their #MeToo experiences, and how it’s #TimesUp on the sub-minimum wage.  
 
“The restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing private sector employers in Massachusetts but is also the lowest paying. A majority of workers in the industry work for the abysmal subminimum wage for tipped workers of $3.75; a majority of tipped workers are women who suffer from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior in order to feed their families in tips. Seven states, including California, require the restaurant industry to pay the full minimum wage with tips on top; these states have higher restaurant sales per capita, higher job growth in the industry, higher tipping averages, and half the rate of sexual harassment in the industry, because in those states women receive a full wage from their boss and do not have to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families,” said Jayaraman. “Governor Cuomo in New York has announced that he is moving New York State in this direction. In the #metoo moment, we urge Massachusetts to follow the lead of the seven states and New York, eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and cut sexual harassment in half in the industry with the highest rates of harassment of any industry.” 
 
Jayaraman recently appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss the issue, and attended the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler as part of the #TimesUp campaign to end sexual harassment across industries.
 
Greater Boston’s restaurant industry includes more than 170,451 workers in 9,852 establishments. Women make up 52% of the industry’s overall restaurant workforce, but comprise 68% of the industry’s tipped restaurant occupations, and 71% of servers. Thirty-five percent of tipped workers in the Greater Boston area reported that they have been sexually harassed by customers, which is more than twice as many as non-tipped workers surveyed by ROC United.
 
Tipped workers experience a disproportionate amount of sexual harassment as a result of the broken two-tiered wage system. Relying on tips to make a living wage forces workers to tolerate sexual harassment from customers in return for “gratuities,” and they often receive additional pressure from management to dress in a revealing way to attract larger tips. Jayaraman explained that workers can also face sexual harassment from co-workers and managers who exploit this reliance on tips, requesting sexual favors in return for good service from the kitchen or being scheduled during busier and more lucrative shifts.
 
“What we’ve learned from #MeToo is that it’s the power imbalance that leads to sexual harassment,” said Senator Jehlen (D-Somerville). “If you depend on tips to make ends meet, you depend on your manager for good shifts, you depend on cooks and other staff members to help you do your job, and you depend on customers’ whims.  The sub-minimum wage creates too many opportunities that can be exploited by predators.”
 
Massachusetts currently has the largest gap in the nation between its minimum wage of $11 and its sub-minimum wage of $3.75 for tipped workers. Despite the notion that Massachusetts tipped workers make above average wages at expensive Boston steakhouses, the vast majority are employed by casual dining restaurants. They are significantly more likely to live in poverty than workers overall, and given that women and minorities make up the large majority of this field, this disparity furthers the wage gap.
 
“In Massachusetts, many tipped workers are working mothers struggling to support their families. When your family’s financial security depends on getting good shifts and making good tips, you are often forced to endure sexual harassment from managers and customers to pay your weekly bills,” said Representative Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield).  “I’ve witnessed this firsthand among my own family, friends, and colleagues who have worked in the restaurant industry. It’s time to put an end to this unfair, inequitable practice.”
 
Senator Jehlen and Representative Farley-Bouvier, who are longtime supporters of tipped workers, previously filed legislation to create One Fair Wage in Massachusetts. The bill would have brought Massachusetts in line with seven other states that eliminated their sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by incrementally increasing the sub-minimum wage until it reached parity with the minimum wage. The proposal is still being considered by the legislature as part of S.1004/H.2635, An Act to improve the Commonwealth’s economy with a strong minimum wage and a strong tipped minimum wage.
 
“The hospitality industry is made up of hard-working, dedicated people who work long hours and give a lot physically and emotionally to make guests’ experiences great. It is important that restaurant workers are afforded the same protections, benefits, and opportunities as others,” said Andrea Pentabona, a Boston-based bartender. “For many people, the restaurant industry is their first job and comes at a time where they are still learning about the world. Don’t we want to show them that they have worth and value so that when they go on to become bosses and managers they can instill that in their workplaces?”
 
“Sexual harassment is a daily concern for me.  I’ve seen comments on Yelp that are obviously about me, with references to the “skinny sexy black girl” who made their latte.  I regularly have men distracting me while I’m on bar to tell me I’m a tease or I look dominant when I work on the espresso machine.  A coworker once asked me if I was wearing anything under my skirt. When I told my boss, he told me to expect that from men like him,” said Kristina Jackson, a local barista.
 
“As a server working at a diner in western Massachusetts, I primarily worked the overnight shifts so that I could attend college classes. I made less than $3/hour, and quickly learned that I needed to live with sexual harassment—from customers, cooks, and managers—if I wanted a good tip, my true source of income,” said Marie Billiel, who now manages a restaurant in Cambridge. “After I refused sexual advances from managers, they scheduled me in sections that had few customers. Without a living wage, I was completely reliant on customers’ generosity and had to accept how they treated me. My rent, health, and education depended on it.”
 
“As the only tip free restaurant in the Boston area, we take the economic stability and advancement of our staff very seriously. As business owners we've taken on the responsibility of ensuring our staff earns higher than the minimum wage--because we are well aware that the minimum wage is not a living wage in this area. A low minimum wage, and the two tiered wage system for tipped workers exposes workers to abuses that our industry has for too long accepted as business as usual. We are standing up as leaders in the hospitality industry to show that it is not only possible to have an award-winning and prosperous business while compensating our staff fairly and with dignity, but that fair wage practices is critical to our long term success,” said Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Juliet in Somerville.
 
Juliet is one of ROC’s High Road employers, whose business model includes sharing profits with employees, offering benefits, and, notably, eliminating tipping altogether.
 
With nearly 13 million employees, the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with a rate twice that of the general female workforce. According to the EEOC since 2010 (and as of 6/2016) employees have filed 162,872 charges alleging harassment’ with employers paying out $698.7 million in penalties.
 
Restaurant workers of all genders report harassing behavior:
·      66% from restaurant management
·      78% from customers
·      80% from co-workers (cooks and back of house staff)
·      37% of tipped workers are mothers
·      18% are single mothers
 
The event also featured a catered lunch by Bon Me, another local High Road employer and founding member of the Sanctuary Restaurants project, which advocates for creating safer spaces for all in restaurants.
 
Link to Sanctuary Restaurants
ABOUT RESTAURANT OPPORTUNITIES CENTER UNITED
 
Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News), ROC United has nearly 30,000 worker-members, more than 500 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members nationwide, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, recovering $10 million in stolen tips and wages. Read more about Saru Jayaraman’s new book Forked: A New Standard for American Dining at forkedthebook.com. www.rocunited.org
 
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