Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Women Earn Less in the Restaurant Business

A new report on gender inequity in the restaurant industry called Tipped Over the Edge was recently released. The executive summary and the full report are available at those links, in PDF form.

This is a 40 page report, and I’ve just skimmed the surface of it. All of this is very familiar territory to me–I worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years.

There are over 10 million restaurant workers in the United States. Approximately 52% of them are women. 66% of tipped workers are women. Tipped workers can be payed a sub minimum wage, which creates legalized gender inequity. From the report:

The restaurant industry is one of the only sectors in which predominately male positions have a different minimum wage than predominately female positions: non-tipped work- ers (52 percent male) have a federal minimum wage of $7.25, while tipped workers (66 percent female) have a federal subminimum wage of $2.13.

The federal rate is $2.13, though some states have a higher rate. Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, and California have eliminated the sub minimum wage. The federal sub minimum wage of $2.13 has been the same since 1991.

Female restaurant workers are paid less than their male counterparts for two primary reasons. First, they are concentrated in lower-paying segments such as quick-serve and family style, and second, they are not able to access the highest-paying positions in the industry. Women fill only 19 percent of chef positions, one of the highest paying restaurant positions with a median wage of $19.23. And at the lowest end of the pay scale, women are highly concentrated in four of the ten lowest paid occupations of any industry: host, counter attendant, combined food prep and serving worker, and server.

(Maryland Rep> Donna Edwards has filed the Wages Act which would increase the federal minimum wage for tipped employees. The subminimum wage has been frozen at $2.13 for 21 years. An increase would provide a little more financial security for tipped employees in a bad economy.)

Then there’s health care, or lack thereof:

These wage inequities are exacerbated by lack of benefits that prevent restaurant workers from properly caring for their health and their families.Of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers ROC surveyed across the country, 90 percent lack paid sick days and 90 percent do not receive health insurance through their employers. One third of all female restaurant workers (33.4 percent) lack any kind of health care, whether provided by their employer or otherwise. More than a quarter (26.8 percent) of all female restaurant workers are mothers,and more than one in ten are single mothers,25 so the lack of paid sick leave and workplace flexibility creates an additional burden for women in the industry.

Sick people who can’t afford to take a day off go to work, where they prepare and serve food.

The low pay isn’t the only problem:

A recent MSNBC review of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data revealed that from January to November 2011, almost 37 percent of all EEOC charges by women regarding sexual harassment came from the restaurant industry, even though less than 7 percent of employed women work in the restaurant industry.

The EEOC has identified the restaurant industry as the largest source of sexual harassment claims.

What I’ve seen in the report confirms what I learned from my own experiences in restaurants. I started out as a server, but quickly learned where the real money was, and learned to bartend and cook.

The flexible schedule worked fairly well for me as a single mother, but restaurant scheduling is often subject to last minute change, which can be` a real problem for women who have child care or elder care responsibilities. Many restaurants consistently overstaff the dining room, in case it gets busy. It’s not unusual to get sent home halfway through a shift, having made very little money. That subminimum wage paycheck doesn’t pay the bills.

Sexual harassment is certainly plentiful, as is discrimination. I worked in one kitchen where postcards of bare chested women adorned the walls. The chef had giant posters of scantily clad, silicone enhanced women in his office. To call it a hostile work environment doesn’t really do the situation justice. He didn’t want women working in his kitchen, and I didn’t stay long.

To be fair, I’ve also worked in a few great restaurants where the staff were treated like family, and even a few that offered health care benefits, which is a rarity.

As a server, getting sent home on a slow night, with little or no tip money was both painful and frightening. The industry is able to pay substandard wages because servers are tipped. Relying on the whims of the public for a paycheck can also be painful and frightening. One can provide excellent service and still receive no tip. The type of restaurant one works in is also a big factor. The tips are better in fine dining – but that isn’t an option for everyone.

The restaurant industry isn’t just “able” to pay substandard wages. They RELY on paying substandard wages, and they lobby fiercely for their right to do so. Right now in Florida, the legislature is considering a bill that would cut the subminimum wage for tipped employees in half. From Raw Story:

A Florida Senate committee has followed the advice of a restaurant association and passed a bill that would cut the minimum wage for tipped workers by more than half.

The bill, SB 2106, would slash the current Florida tipped minimum wage of of $4.65 an hour to the federal standard of of $2.13 an hour.


“We are being brave and bold and being statesmen and not politicians,” Republican state Sen. Nancy Detert, the committee’s chair, asserted, adding that the bill had been requested by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have also expressed support for the bill.

I wasn’t aware that cutting the subminimum wage qualified one as a “statesman.”

One of those restaurant employees, Charles Spencer, is working at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant in Orlando to pay for his education. He told the Sentinel that the $11 or $12 an hour he currently makes barely pays the bills.

“It’s a lot of canned vegetables and grilled chicken and ramen noodles,” Spencer explained. “I was rather appalled by the fact they’re going to try to cut a wage standard in this economy.”

The Florida AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin said that the bill would effectively mean a more than $2.50 an hour pay cut for a waitress currently making $14 an hour.

This is shocking – in a bad economy, they would cut an already substandard subminimum wage? How very Dickensian.

To bring it back to the original topic; that cut in the subminimum wage in Florida would disproportionately hurt women, who make up the majority of tipped employees. At a time where people are dining out less, and tips aren’t as big as they once were, it’s a remarkable show of greed on the part of the restaurant industry, to try to cut an already criminally low wage.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This has been yet another bone of contention with me although I haven't worked in the trade since 2003. I've written and asked legislators to work toward far more than better restaurant wages. We should have an overall minimum wage of $10 per hour period. This must be extended to hospitality and not exclude ANY industry whatsoever. To those naysayers who preach capitalism and democracy, I'd like to remind them that when we preach to other nations and cultures, place demands on them and invade their countries, we had better raise our own bar and expect immigration to our country (legal or not). Our demands on others create a desire in them to be part of our promise of democratic/capitalistic paradise which increasingly, appears an illusion to its own citizens. If we fear what is happening in Greece and Italy, we had better hold on for a fiery crash because we are headed there. Those countries have legislators/politicians that make sweetheart deals and become extraordinarily rich. Sound familiar? Shades of Guinta, Gingrich et al? Hold on to your seats belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.