Retail

Hunger Pains And The Plight Of Tipped Restaurant Workers

July 25, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Tipped workers like Martin Sanchez are calling on Governor Cuomo for help.

New York, NY – Armed with the release of a staggering new report showing almost half of the city’s restaurant employees aren't getting enough food to maintain healthy, active lives – worker advocates are calling on Governor Cuomo to immediately end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers currently locked in at just $5-an-hour. 

The new report issued by the Restaurants Opportunities Center of New York [ROC-NY] finds that 41 percent of New York City restaurant workers are officially food insecure. At 67 percent, the number of the food insecure – as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture – is even higher among undocumented immigrants. Overall, the ROC-NY report found that tipped workers in the Big Apple are 30 percent more likely to be food insecure than non-tipped workers. 

“Working for tips is not easy because my wages are usually very unstable,” said Martin Sanchez, a busboy in New York City for the last eight years, and a ROC-NY member. “It all depends of on the hours you get and the kinds of customers that come to the restaurant.”

Sanchez – who helped ROC-NY release the new report at Crema on West 17th Thursday morning – said that the roughly $80 he sometimes makes daily, is simply not enough to feed his four daughters. 

“Even though I’m a restaurant worker and I serve food, it’s difficult for me to make sure my family eats well,” Sanchez added. 

Governor Cuomo could either raise the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – or eliminate it all together – by empaneling a special Wage Board as part of a deal struck last year to bump up the state’s minimum wage to $9-an-hour by 2016. 

‘They left tipped workers out in the cold,” said Daisy Chung, executive director, ROC-NY. “They just carved them out of the legislation. But Governor Cuomo can actually do something today. We’re calling on Governor Cuomo to immediately convene the Wage Board through the Department of Labor.”

Raising or eliminating New York’s sub-minimum wage for tipped workers could positively impact about 229,000 workers and their families, according to Chung. 

Tristin Quinn-Thibodeau, an activist with the grassroots group WhyHunger, called food insecurity in the United States “unconscionable.” 

“We have more than enough food and wealth to go around,” Quinn-Thibodeau said. “We have hunger and poverty because of bad policies.”

ROC-NY Executive Director Daisy Chung.

ROC-NY Executive Director Daisy Chung.

While many restaurant owners balk at raising worker salaries, a significant number of progressive – and highly successful entrepreneurs – wholeheartedly support ROC-NY’s call for  Governor Cuomo to take action on behalf of tipped workers. 

According to Rahul Saksena, policy director, ROC-NY, workers at unionized restaurants and restaurants partnering with ROC-NY through its “High Road” restaurant program, tend to be “significantly more secure in their abilities to feed themselves and their families.”

Barbara Sibley, owner of La Palapa, located at 77 St. Marks Place, and James Mallious, owner of Amali, located at 115 East 60 Street, are just two High Road restaurant owners who think it’s time for Governor Cuomo to act on the state’s sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. 

“I think it’s important that people are aware of [the ROC-NY report], and I think it’s important for people to know that you don’t have to do it that way,” Sibley said. “You can actually treat your employees right and be profitable. A lot of people think that you can’t. And that’s just not true."

The La Palapa owner also stressed the importance of holding other restauranteurs to the same level of accountability.

“It’s not fair and they should realize that their best and brightest resources are their employees –  and to treat them that way,” Sibley continued. 

Mallious has also found that being the kind of “High Road” restaurant owner who values his employees' worth has only made his establishment more successful. 

“One of the things I like about the High Road group, is that it is a way for similarly-minded restaurant owners to come together and find ways to improve the working conditions for their workers in way that makes your business better in the long run,” Mallious said. 

Saksena pointed out the particular irony of restaurant employees who work hard feeding their patrons – and yet cannot afford to adequately feed their own families on sub-par wages.

“It is a cruel irony that the folks that are feeding us and serving us can’t afford to feed their themselves and their families,” Saksena said. “It’s completely unjust – and kind of disgusting.”

July 24, 2014

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