I have a piece up at Alternet on restaurant labor, examining the exploitative nature of the $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wageand exploring some possibilities to even the playing field. An excerpt:
Workers themselves are also fighting for their rights. Restaurants Opportunity Centers United is a nonprofit worker center organizing restaurant labor with locals in eight American cities. ROC organizes around a large number of issues, including sexism and racism within the restaurant industry, acquiring paid sick days for workers, and raising the tipped minimum wage.
Meghana Reddy of ROC-United explained to me that the organization originated to represent the surviving workers of Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, where 80 workers lost their lives during the September 11, 2001 attacks. These mostly immigrant workers needed help navigating the federal aid bureaucracy. Building off this experience, ROC began advocating for restaurant workers’ rights, particularly over the tipped minimum wage. After a decade, workers have achieved important gains. ROC-Philadelphia recently successfully lobbied for a city ordinance to stop employers from taking credit card fees out of tips. At present, ROC-United is lobbying for the WAGES Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) that would raise the tipped minimum wage to $5.50 an hour. It is also protesting the Darden Restaurant Group, a corporation that owns popular chain restaurants such as Capital Grille, Olive Garden and Red Lobster for taking tips from workers and making tipped workers do untipped labor at the tipped minimum wage.