Restaurant workers rally in Manhattan for a more equal ‘One Fair Wage’ plan

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Food servers from throughout the city protested at Gov. Andrew CuomoÕs office to complain that servers, waiters, waitresses, were not included in the minimum wage bill because tips were figured in. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“One Fair Wage” isn’t very fair to everyone, protesters charged while picketing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office on Tuesday.

The “One Fair Wage” plan, which Cuomo recently enacted through executive order, guarantees a full minimum wage with tips to all employees except restaurant workers.

About 50 protestors, mostly women who work in restaurants, massed outside the Midtown office at about noon and complained that the One Fair Wage left them in the cold. Many charged that depending on tips leaves them at the mercy of customers, exposing them to potential sexual harassment while serving clients. 

Leaders of the protest said restaurant workers face the highest levels of sexual harassment in any industry. The protestors demanded that restaurant industry workers be included in the One Fair Wage executive action.

In New York State, 70% of restaurant workers are women, they say.

“We should do something with the minimum wage. We shouldn’t have to rely on the gratitude of customers to make an income – that’s a tough situation,” said Lindsey Brownstein, a waitress who lives in the Bronx. “I think we should make minimum wage plus our tips on top – especially with New York being such an expensive city to live in.”

Brownstein said because they depend on the tips, she is forced to tolerate sexual harassment.

“Having to rely on customers, you have to tolerate certain behavior because you have to rely on them for your income. But if we had a real minimum wage, we might not have to take it,” Brownstein said.

V-Day/One Billion Rising and the Resistance Revival Chorus, join the food servers from throughout the city who protested at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to complain that servers, waiters, waitresses, were not included in the minimum wage bill because tips were figured in. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Among those supporting the group was Eve Ensler, the acclaimed author/playwright of “The Vagina Monologues,” among other works. She said that she understands the workers’ difficulties, as she herself was a restaurant worker for nine years.

“I’m here today supporting restaurant workers who have been left behind and left out of the One Fair Wage,” Ensler said. “Every other worker received it, but now restaurant workers will have to live off their tips. I can tell you about the kind of harassment and groping that many restaurant workers are forced to contend with. When you depend on the tips, you have to tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Ensler said she understands the difficulty of tolerating sexual harassment on the job.

“I know one of the first jobs a woman gets is restaurant work and they are taught from the get-go they should tolerate sexual harassment – and this is the kind of mentality that will follow you for the rest of your life,” Ensler said.

Nikkie Cole, national policy campaign director for “One Fair Wage,” said she started out working for $3.30 an hour plus tips for about 17 years and “because of that, I faced a lot of economic insecurity.”

“I was homeless for a short period of time, always juggling bills, dodging college loan bill collectors, and because of this, I faced ongoing sexual harassment on the job because of the in-balance of power when you are making such a little wage and you are depending on good will of others to make a living,” Cole told the crowd. “I started at an Applebees at 16, and they had a ‘T&A’ list, and you know what that means, ranking all the girls based on their physical features. It really set the tone of standards – I was regularly grabbed, harassed by both managers and customers and even other co-workers. This imbalance of power, lack of benefits, these conditions led to my depression, drug abuse and a cycle of this over and over. My story is not unique.”

Cole said there are 13 million hospitality workers in the fastest growing business sector in the country, “but [the workers are offered] the lowest paying jobs.”

Nikki Cole calls on food servers from throughout the city to rise up and protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rejection of One Fair Wage for food servers, waiters, waitresses. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Joining the protestors were V-Day/One Billion Rising and the Resistance Revival Chorus; Alysia Reiner and Carmen LoBue, Times Up members and actresses; Taina Asili, social justice artist/musician; and restaurant workers and other advocates.