By Mark Hallum
City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) is calling for a sweeping change to how restaurant wait staff is paid across New York by issuing a resolution for the state Department of Labor to abolish tipped wages and raise workers up to the full minimum wage of other employees.
Tipped wage earners are twice as likely to live in poverty, according to Moya, and half as likely to be able to afford health insurance.
By eliminating “tipped credit,” Moya said these employees would earn a “stable” living wage and be able to access basic labor rights, such as protections against misconduct, including wage theft and harassment.
Minimum wage for tipped employees across the state is $7.50 an hour, while in New York City the minimum for those earning tips is $8.
“The livelihoods of restaurant servers, car wash workers, nail salon employees or any tipped worker should not be dependent on tolerating sexual harassment and discrimination, but our two-tiered minimum wage system incentivizes silently suffering these indignities,” Moya said. “It’s time for New York to join the seven other states that have eliminated the tipped credit and providing tipped workers with the stability that comes from being guaranteed a living wage.”
Sherry Leiwant is a founder and co-president of A Better Balance, a legal organization that focuses on women and economic issues. She said there are about 400,000 tipped workers across the state who would benefit from being elevated to full minimum wage and the protections gained from this would help to end sexism and abuse in certain industries.
Economic hardship in tipped wage industries is shared more by women than men, according to Susan Zimet, chair of the Women’s Equality Party.
“Women in America are more likely to be poor than men, and over half of the 37 million Americans living in poverty today are women. Too many women work in jobs that depend on tips, keeping them in poverty,” Zimet said. “Too many women are forced to deal with sexual harassment from their bosses and the customers they serve but are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. All workers deserve to get paid a living wage for the work they provide. All workers deserve to be in a safe environment where your wage is not dependent on a low cut neckline and a short hem skirt. We need One Fair Wage immediately.”
Deborah Axt, co-director of Make The Road NY, said ending the practice of tipped wages would stabilize the wages of wait staff by basing their income on more than their dealings with customers.
“No worker should have their livelihood threatened because they didn’t smile enough or prostrate themselves before a customer,” Axt said. “We’ve heard enough horror stories about the conditions tipped employees are forced to work under to know that this two-tiered system must end.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall