By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
DETROIT – Colors Restaurant, near Comerica Park, was crowded July 21 prior to a Tigers game as elected officials waited tables during the Michigan One Fair Wage “Server for an Hour” event.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District), Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), and Brenda Lawrence (D-14th District) served restaurant guests during an event planned to highlight the Raise the Wage Act, which was passed by the U.S. House July 18. It would eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all American workers.
The One Fair Wage campaign’s goal is to secure the full minimum wage for employees in the restaurant industry, who, in 43 states, are not paid the
minimum wage. Servers, bussers, hosts and bartenders rely on tips, since the federal minimum tipped wage, since 1991, has been $2.13 an hour.
One Fair Wage contends that while employers are legally required to “top off” the pay of a worker if their tips do not add up to minimum wage, enforcement is lax. The group said that after taxes, some restaurant employees are left with a zero balance in their paychecks.
The group said seven of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the United States are in the restaurant industry, whose lobbying power has opposed minimum wage measures.
The group contends that servers must tolerate sexual harassment to ensure tips, and said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that the restaurant industry has the highest rate of sexual harassment charges filed by women, five times higher than any other industry.
Alicia Renee Farris, Michigan campaign chair for One Fair Wage, thanked Dingell, Tlaib and Lawrence for the passage of the Raise the Wage Act.
“We had such a tremendous victory because of these women and others,” Farris said.
Wanda Hammoud, chair of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers action board, which supports the One Fair Wage project, said the act represents more than just a wage increase.
“What it means is it would be illegal to give people $2 or $3 per hour,” Hammoud said. “We are going to keep going. It was passed in the House, and now it is going to the Senate. We know that dear Mitch (McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader) is probably going to do whatever, but we are here, on behalf of all the workers, and we are not going away.”
As she was waiting tables, Tlaib said servers deserve a living wage.
“This is hard work,” Tlaib said.
Dingell agreed that restaurant employees work hard.
“You know, we are having fun, because we don’t do this every day,” Dingell said. “On top of bringing attention to it, we need to say thank you to the people that serve us every day, that too many of us might take for granted.”
Dingell said she is optimistic about getting the legislation through the Senate.
“Some businesses are concerned about how it will impact them, but Henry Ford, many years ago, when he was starting the assembly lines, said if you pay people a decent wage, then everybody benefits,” Dingell said.
She said she heard from a mother of two children, who was working two jobs, was at the poverty line, and trying to figure out daycare, who had a daughter with asthma whose inhalers cost her $700 a month, with no insurance.
“I hear so many stories like that,” Dingell said. “That is what we are trying to uplift. We need to thank people who are working hard for us. They are members of our community.”
Dingell said the Senate will get the bill in the fall, and while she will never try to predict McConnell’s actions, it is her hope that a bipartisan effort will help the country’s workers.
Tlaib said they need to get the legislation through the Senate and onto the president’s desk.
“It was pretty historic for us to get One Fair Wage, a $15 minimum wage, out of the House of Representatives,” Tlaib said. “The corporate assault on working families is real, and we need to continue to fight. It is a big battle, but the fact that we got it out of the House means that there is momentum for it.”
She said Republicans opposition to the legislation is one of the reasons that corporate money needs to be removed from politics.
Lawrence said the administration brags about the strength of the economy, and challenged them to share the strength of the economy by raising the minimum wage.
“It is insulting to think that you can brag about profits and record increases, and not think about the people who work every day to make it happen,” Lawrence said. “That we allow poverty in this country for those who work every day is unacceptable. We cannot be quiet. We have to fight. We have to continue to raise the voices of those who work every day.”
Tlaib said people should not have to rely on living off tipped wages.
“It is not enough to support families,” she said. “I am going to push McConnell and all the senators to push this bill out of the Senate and on to this president’s desk.
“Detroit birthed the movement for labor rights. When we put money back in the pockets of real people, like our service workers, like those who depend on tipped income, we can change our country for the better.”
Tlaib recalls a quote from a Detroit pastor who described the United States not as divided, but disconnected.
“That is what you see,” Tlaib said. “Instead of answering to the call of ‘What do you think about the fact that the $15 minimum wage increase had just passed the House of Representatives?’ you have a president, you have the GOP tweeting about things that don’t matter to us.
“They are hurtful, but what about the answer? Do you support it? What are you going to do? Will you sign it if it comes into the Oval Office? Stay focused, stay driven on these important things. We are disconnected. We need to connect.”
For more information on One Fair Wage, go to onefairwage.org.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])