On Friday, April 1, it will have been 25 years since the last change to the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. The 1991 legislation added four cents to the hourly wage — from $2.09 to $2.13 — for those who depend on the tipping system for their livelihood.
On the eve of this anniversary, a coalition of advocacy and research groups for fair labor has joined forces to urge the federal government to eliminate the unfair two-tiered wage system, which leaves tipped workers unable to benefit from minimum wage standards.
For non-tipped employees, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, though some U.S. cities, like Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City, have approved a $15 minimum wage. Of course, individual states can also set their own wage minimums for tipped workers, though these figures comply with the existing two-tiered system. In New York, tipped workers make $7.50 an hour as of December 31, up from $5.
For the 4.5 million tipped workers, 70 percent are women, who continue to earn a sub-minimum wage — the difference is apparent not just in earnings, but in workplace treatment — as well as states’ individual economies.
“$2.13 an hour isn’t enough for a single person to survive on, much less a family,” Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said in a statement. “That’s what we’re talking about here: A majority of tipped workers are women, and many are the heads of their households. Without a stable base wage to depend on, these women can be forced to choose between child care and medical care, because while their income fluctuates, their bills don’t. Even worse, tipped workers in states that pay as low as $2.13 an hour experience sexual harassment at twice the rate of their counterparts in states where there’s one fair minimum wage for all workers.”
Along with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, groups calling for a single fair wage include the National Employment Law Project, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Coalition on Human Needs, Slow Food USA, the Working Families Party, Voices for Progress, and many others.
“Customers shouldn’t be stuck paying employees’ wages when it’s the employer’s responsibility,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “In seven states, tipped workers must be paid at least the full minimum wage as their base pay. These states have thriving economies and rising employment. It’s time for the nation to follow their lead: eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and pay one fair minimum wage to all workers.”