Waiters Get A Raw Deal In US Restaurants
Everything has changed around restaurant waiters since the past few decades - be it the face of restaurant business, dishes being served, or the profile of patrons. One thing, however, has remained constant even through the change of a millennium - their wages, which can only be called a raw deal for poor waiters. In fact, these poor waiters do not even have basic health covers because the plans offered to them are not affordable enough. In all this scenario, they just hope that they do not fall sick because after having paid their salaries in taxes, they just have the tips to fall back on. Read on to know more about their plight:
1) Savings! What's That?
A female waiter, who has not had health care coverage for many years now because of unaffordable plans offered to her by the restaurants where she worked. Listen to what she has to say about her future, "I can't even think about retirement. I'd go into shock." This is because the wages have been so less, and stagnant, for so long, that it does not occur to waiters like her to think about saving for the future. The last time federal government hiked the wages for the waiters was in 2009, when the minimum wage was kept at $7.25 an hour. However, that has not really helped majority of the people working as waiters.
2) Stagnant Wages
While the cost of living has constantly been rising in America, the waiters’ wages are not. The US Congress has last raised the ‘tipped minimum wage” for waiters to $2.13 per hour and that was in 1991. Since 1966, a large section of waiters in the US have been living off this minimum wage and while some states have chosen to raise the minimum wage on their own, almost half of the states still don’t have any law against restaurants paying their servers $2.13 an hour.
3) The Daily Struggle
On their part, restaurants are doing little to improve the situation and they continue to justify the tipped minimum wage of $2.13. Therefore, the onus of the daily struggle falls on the shoulders of poor servers, most of whom are not even aware that they can ask their employers to make up for any shortfall in their minimum wage if they cannot make it up with the tips in hand. One such waiter, who has worked several shifts at a Latin American restaurant in Washington, D.C., ended up making anything between $300 and $400 a week while waiting tables. However, during the difficult times when her weekly wages did not even turn up to be $200, she had no knowledge that she could ask her boss to make up her minimum-wage gap. Instead, the poor lady was forced to make ends meet with the meager wage packet. Most of the restaurant jobs are poor in terms of pay packet. With an average wage packet of $18,130 for food and beverage workers in last two years, it is not surprising to know that many waiters are forced to live below the Federal poverty line. That, perhaps, is the most disgusting aspect of the story. To realize that people are so against the tipping culture, may be this would give you a reason to think differently.
4) Living on Tips
Thanks to the restaurant lobby in America, the tipped wage has been constant for the past two decades now, at federal as well as many states’ levels. While in 1996, the then President Bill Clinton got the House Republicans to vote for a wage hike, the restaurant industry representative, “National Restaurant Association” (NRA), made it sure that the lawmakers kept the minimum wage of tipped employees separate from the wage hike and just at $2.13. Jen Kem, a coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates the cause of low-wage workers, including waiters, explains the outcome, “I don’t think anyone knew at that point that it was a permanent deal. As these things happen…they become ingrained. They succeeded in creating this second-class wage system, and people accepted it as the way it’s always been.” Since then, the restaurant industry has not bothered to pay their waiters anything beyond the tipped minimum wage, and it surely looks like a huge injustice being meted out to the waiter fraternity.
5) The Future can be Bright
With the restaurant business, in addition to the retail sector, being the only bright spot in the aftermath of a recovering economy, it is no wonder that advocates for the low-wage workers are of the opinion that the restaurant owners can easily withstand a substantial increase in the tipped minimum wage of the waiters. Looking at the NRA prediction that the 2012 sales forecast for restaurant industry would go up to $632 billion and the industry would generate about 13 million jobs, it doesn’t seem so difficult an objective to achieve. Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist, working with the University of California, describes the situation that the restaurant waiters are facing, “This is part of the stagnation we’ve seen for all workers over the last 20 or 30 years. This industry is growing by leaps and bounds, but it’s not paying a good wage. The fact is we have millions of workers in this industry, and a few of them do fairly well – mostly men, at high-end restaurants.” She cannot resist but question, “Why should this industry benefit so much from this artificially low pay that’s instituted?”
A large portion of men and women who work at restaurants, waiting our tables, are honest and hardworking individuals trying to better their living standards. When America celebrated the “National Waiters and Waitresses Day” on May 21st this year, hardly anyone paid notice to their plight. Although, as an individual, you cannot be expected to pay more than a generous tip to your server, next time you are out in a restaurant. But maybe your server would feel a little better, if you are good to him or her.
Video Courtesy: youtube.com