ROC-U Calls on Congress to Increase Tipped Workers’ Wages

By Guest Columnist Feb 13, 2009

by Miguel de la Fuente On the eve of Valentine’s Day, organizers from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U) called meetings with Congress representatives to address the need for an increase in the minimum wage for restaurant workers nationwide. While many fine-dining restaurants can expect a boom in business this weekend, members of ROC branches from all over the country want to direct attention to a much more staggering figure represented by today’s date: the $2.13 wage freeze for tipped workers over the past 18 years. ROC-U and NELP (National Employment Law Project) are urging Congress to restore the minimum wage for tipped workers back to 60% of the full minimum wage, an increase they believe will greatly benefit low wage workers who are teetering on the fragile line of poverty, enabling them an increased purchasing power that would also stimulate the economy. Congress removed protections for tipped workers’ wages in 1996, keeping them at $2.13 for nearly two decades. Members of ROC-U and NELP spent the day visiting offices of their Congresspeople in Washington, DC in an effort to spur legislative efforts for wage increases. In New York, ROC-NY staff visited Congresswoman McCarthy’s office to remind the politician of the need to increase the minimum wage particularly for tipped workers, who rely heavily on their base wages, especially considering the unpredictability of tips. Congresswoman McCarthy has been a supporter of increasing the minimum wage, but action is urgently needed, in light of the country’s present economic crisis and the erosion in value of the current minimum wage. When statistics provided by NELP show that the family poverty rate of restaurant waiters and waitresses is nearly three times the poverty rate of the workforce in its entirety (14.9% to 5.7% respectively), the call for an increased mininum wage overall and a return to the 60% for tipped workers’ wage sounds off as an alarm for Congress to act stealthily. ROC-NY leaders met with Keisha Miller, the Director of Constituent Services, who indicated Congresswoman McCarthy supported their efforts. The actions across the country will hopefully shed light on the challenges low wage workers face and the dire need for long overdue change.