Restaurant workers lobby states for higher wages

Arizona restaurant workers likely know that sexual harassment is prevalent in their industry. According to employee advocates, one of the reasons for the problem is that tipped workers are often paid a low minimum wage and are forced to rely on tips, which often makes them the victims of harassment by customers.

To raise awareness on the issue, restaurant workers in several U.S. cities lobbied state and local officials in February to implement a "fair" wage. Currently, 17 states pay restaurant workers a base wage of just $2.13 an hour, which is the federal minimum wage for tipped employees. Another 26 states, including Arizona, pay workers more than the federal minimum wage but less than the full state minimum wage. Only seven states pay tipped employees the full state minimum wage. Statistics show that around 70 percent of all U.S. tipped workers are women.

According to a representative from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which organized the rallies, workers are vulnerable to sexual harassment when they are paid a low wage and forced to survive on tips. A study by ROC found that restaurant workers who earn their state's full minimum wage are 50 percent less likely to report sexual harassment than workers earning less. The organization argues that paying restaurant workers a fair wage shifts the power balance in the workplace and reduces incidents of sexual harassment. The rallies took place in Detroit, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Sexual harassment can take place in many forms, including lewd comments, unwanted sexual advances, and a hostile work environment. It is not limited to co-workers, as customers and clients can also be perpetrators. Victims might want to meet with an employment law attorney to see what recourse might be available.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. restaurant workers target low wages in campaign against sexual harassment", Lisa Baertlein, Feb. 13, 2018

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