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8 December 2013

Restaurants should cook up better wages for employees

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If you’ve ever bought an iced coffee at Starbucks, you paid more for that drink than many restaurants pay their employees for an entire hour of work.

Many Americans know that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The tipped minimum wage, however, is $2.13 an hour, and the server makes the rest in tips. When you pay a tip, it isn’t just “hey-thanks-for-the-great-service-here’s-some-extra-cash,” you are paying the majority of your server’s income. If a server doesn’t make enough in tips to reach the $7.25 per hour wage, the restaurant must pay the difference.

Unfortunately, wage theft is commonplace. According to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United), 21.8 percent of Miami-Dade’s restaurant workers experience minimum wage violations. That’s a lot of people who don’t get the amount of money they’re guaranteed by law to receive.

Seven of the nation’s 10 lowest paying jobs are in the food industry. These workers are three times as likely to live in poverty, and twice as likely to use public assistance as the general public. Millions of Americans who serve food to others can’t afford to provide food for their families.

How is this possible? In large part because the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that represents the interests of large corporate business and has lobbied both state and federal legislatures to ensure that the tipped minimum wage has not increased in over 20 years and that workers do not have the right to paid sick days.

As a college student, what can I do?

We, as consumers, need to let restaurant managers and owners know that we value high road practices like livable wages, internal career advancement and paid sick days. The industry won’t change unless we demand it.

We can also support restaurants that already treat their employees well. ROC United has a Diners’ Guide that rates restaurants based on their practices. You can download the guide online at rocunited.org/dinersguide, or get the app on your phone. Supporting these ethical restaurants shows the rest of the industry that it’s possible to pay your employees fair wages and maintain fair work environments while still staying afloat.

The final thing we can do is contact our elected representatives. If you think that the tipped minimum wage should be raised from $2.13 an hour, tell someone. Let your representatives know that you care about how much restaurant workers get paid and how they are treated.

 

Jacqueline Nye is a senior majoring in international studies, economics and politics.