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Tipped workers fight for higher wages

Stephon Johnson | 7/17/2014, 11:48 a.m.
Last week, a new coalition of food delivery workers, low-wage tipped workers and women’s rights leaders across New York called ...

Last week, a new coalition of food delivery workers, low-wage tipped workers and women’s rights leaders across New York called for an end to subminimum wages for tipped workers. This campaign begins right when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is preparing to appoint a Wage Board charged with recommending an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers.

The broad coalition fighting for subminimum wage workers includes Make the Road New York, the Center for Popular Democracy, Fast Food Forward, the Labor-Religion Coalition, the National Employment Law Project, New York Communities for Change, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Strong for All, United New York and other community groups.

On July 10, Domino’s delivery workers rallied outside of a Manhattan Domino’s restaurant to call for an end to subminimum wages for tipped workers, citing wage theft, and demanding an administrative wage order that requires companies to directly pay tipped workers the state’s minimum wage, with tips as an addition.

“The public might think we do well, but the reality is that many times we don’t even get a tip,” said Alfredo Franco, a tipped Domino’s delivery worker in New York City. “Delivery fees are often confused with a tip for the drivers. We never see a penny of that. Many of us have to work two or three jobs just to get by, sacrificing everything, including time with our families. We need a reliable income. The tipped [sub]minimum wage has to go.”

According to a report released on July 9 by the National Employment Law Project, a wage order eliminating the tipped subminimum wage would benefit close to 229,000 low-wage tipped workers in New York. Women make up more than 70 percent of the low-wage work force. The wage order would benefit working women and, according to the report, make progress in addressing the gender pay gap in New York.

Michael Stewart, executive director of United NY, released a statement championing the NELP’s report. “As New York faces one of the worst economic inequality crises in the nation, it should put an end to the subminimum wage for tipped workers that leaves so many of our neighbors living in extreme poverty,” said Stewart. “The minimum wage is already too low. Allowing employers to pay below it does further damage to workers and our economy.”

As a result of legislation signed by Cuomo last year, New York’s minimum wage is scheduled to go up to $9 an hour by Dec. 31, 2015, and the minimum wage for tipped food service workers is still stuck at $5 an hour, with tipped hotel workers earning slightly more at $5.65 an hour.

Zenaida Mendez, president of the National Organization for Women of New York State, said the gender pay gap needs to close, and no longer allowing the subminimum wage for tipped workers would help it along.

“The poverty rate for waitresses is three times the rate for the American workforce as a whole,” said Mendez. “For this reason, the National Organization for Women is seeking to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers. This pay inequality must end.”