November 17, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Maria Rosas, a 40-year-old married mother of two from Mexico, has been a waitress for more than 10 years. For the last three years, she’s worked the graveyard shift at an IHOP located on 74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens. It’s a place where the clientele can sometimes get so ugly, she’s often forced to drop off her order and sprint away as fast as she can.
“Alcohol is not sold at the restaurant, but A lot of drunken men and women come into the restaurant and it’s very hard,” Rosas says. “They want to touch you, talk to you, get your phone number, whatever. They want more than just the service and the meal. It’s very stressful, but I need the money.”
Recently, one of IHOP’s overnight customers went so far as to grab Rosas as she attempted to perform her job.
“This woman put her hand on the middle of my body,” Rosas says. “I was surprised, but I had plates in my hands and couldn’t do anything. I was so angry and upset I talked with security, and they put this woman out of the restaurant.”
The incident, however, left Rosas – who is now contemplating a new career as a dental hygienist – both embarrassed and frustrated. She felt like confronting the offender directly, but was afraid of “getting in trouble” with her manager.
Sadly, Rosas’ story is not an uncommon one among the overwhelming numbers of women who constitute the nation’s tipped workforce. In New York, 70 percent of tipped workers are women. Laboring under a $5 an hour sub-minimum wage, working women like Rosas must rely on tips and the good graces of their clientele to make ends meet. They simply cannot afford to upset customers – no matter how offensive they get.
Advocates for tipped workers, including the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United [ROC-United], One Billion Rising and others, are pushing newly re-elected Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Wage Board to finally scrap the two-tiered sub-minimum wage system because it keeps too many families in poverty, while leaving women open to all types of sexual harassment on the job.
“Women like me wouldn’t be exposed to these kind of experiences [if the sub-minimum wage was eliminated]," Rosas says. "You would know that you had a guarantee of your wages, and you wouldn’t have to be afraid of not having enough money for the week because you didn’t smile at these kinds of people.”
According to a ROC-United report on sexual harassment in the restaurant industry released last month called, “The Glass Floor,” the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S. stems from the restaurant industry.
The report further finds that while seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, more than a third – or 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), come from the restaurant industry.
“It’s survival,” Rosas says. “I just bring the meal and run from the table. Sometimes, I don’t earn a lot tips, because I don’t want to smile. There are a lot of ugly people.”