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Amy Poehler, restaurant servers call for fair wage for tipped workers

Comedian Amy Poehler joined a group of One Fair Wage supporters in midtown Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, to rally for tipped workers to be more fairly compensated and protected against sexual harassment. (Credit: Rajvi Desai)

Comedian Amy Poehler joined a group of One Fair Wage supporters in midtown Tuesday to rally for tipped workers to be more fairly compensated and protected against sexual harassment.

“Let’s just stop under-serving the many people who serve us,” Poehler said to the crowd of nearly 100 people.

The former “Parks and Recreation” star — who worked as a waitress for longer than a decade before breaking into the acting business — spoke at The Rockefeller Foundation on Fifth Avenue. She urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is currently between $7.50 and $8.65, be raised.

“It was my main means of income for over 10 years,” Poehler said to the crowd of servers, restaurant owners and others. “I was a white woman who had certain privileges allowed to me and I worked with very reasonable restaurant owners. But I did, like every woman in this room, deal with incredible amounts of harassment from customers and co-workers. It was a very routine way of life.”

Currently, the state allows tipped workers to be paid lower than minimum wage, as long as the difference is earned back in tips. Cuomo has previously argued that these workers — such as restaurant, car wash and nail salon employees — who are legally paid at a lower rate are consequently vulnerable to misconduct in the workplace and less likely to speak out.

“When you have a group of women who are at the mercy of a wildly fluctuating income, you give every man in every restaurant incredible power over other women,” said restaurant worker-rights advocate Saru Jayaraman, who attended the Golden Globes ceremony as the actress’ guest.

Supporters of the national One Fair Wage campaign claim sexual harassment in the food service industry, in particular, can be cut in half by raising these workers to the state’s full minimum wage, $13.00 an hour.

“As a small-business owner, I’m going to put forth a radical proposition, that if you pay people well and offer them benefits, your business will become more profitable,” James Mallios, the owner of Upper East Side Mediterranean restaurant Amali, said.

In his State of the State address last month, Cuomo proposed the tipped wage standard be reevaluated. “At the end of the day, this is a question of basic fairness. In New York, we believe in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and that all workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Cuomo said. “I have directed the Department of Labor to ensure that no workers are more susceptible to exploitation because they rely on tips to survive. I look forward to reviewing the findings of these hearings.”

Poehler was joined by Jayaraman, “The Cosby Show” actress Erika Alexander and others.

“Everybody go to their local restaurant, worry less about the soup of the day and ask them how fresh their wages are,” Poehler said.

With Rajvi Desai

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