Crystal Coleman has worked in the restaurant industry in Detroit for most of her life, barely making enough money to raise her five children.
When her husband died last year, the 52-year-old was forced to raise a family on less than minimum wage.
“I couldn’t even afford to buy food for my own children,” Coleman said. “I struggled to pay my rent and utility bills. Because of my meager income, it was almost a hand-to-mouth existence.”
Coleman is among millions of people nationwide who would benefit from House Resolution 1528, the Restaurant Workers Bill of Rights,
which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib last Friday.
The bill calls for a “thriving wage,” access to health care, paid-time off for illness and to care for family, and the right to a safe and dignified work environment.
“Restaurant workers deserve the ability to have a thriving life – a good quality of life – including eliminating the starvation wage of the tipped minimum wage," Tlaib said at a news conference Monday. “They deserve the right to heal and rest. Many have watched their colleagues or coworkers die during the pandemic. They put their lives on the line to be pushed out of the economy without those safety nets.”
In 16 states, minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. In Ohio, it’s $4.40, far below the minimum wage of other workers.
“Forcing service workers to rely on tips for their wages creates a tremendous instability, making it difficult to budget or absorb financial shocks,” said Tanya Wallace-Gobern, executive director of the national Black Worker Center.
A disproportionate number of restaurant workers are women, people of color, and immigrants. More than half are single moms, according to the National Employment Law Project.
“The restaurant industry’s long-standing practice of paying tipped workers a sub-minimum wage has led to a significant number of racial and gender-based pay disparities,” Wallace-Gobern said. “Tipped work is overwhelmingly low-wage work.”
Restaurant work is so difficult and undervalued that 60% of workers are looking for employment outside of the industry, according to a survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
The problems in the industry were made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey found that 85% experienced wage loss, 91% did not receive hazard pay, and 34% lacked access to protective equipment such as masks or gloves.
The bill of rights is an vital way to ensure workers receive fair compensation and a safe work environment, said Sekou Siby, president and CEO of ROC United.
“The restaurant workers are essential,” Siby said. “Their life is complicated. They face many issues. A lot of it is due to discrimination that is pervasive in the restaurant industry. It’s a complex problem that needs a complex solution.”
While Congress has passed two financial bailouts for the restaurant industry, none of those measures ensured that employees benefited, Tlaib said.
“We haven’t done anything for the people who are the heart and soul of the restaurant industry,” Tlaib said.
The legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García and Marie Newman, both Illinois Democrats.
Coleman said the bill of rights gives her hope for a better future.
“Despite the challenges we are currently facing, I am happy there is hope and economic justice, and dignity and respect for all Michiganders and restaurant workers nationwide.”
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