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Politics & Government

Upstate Restaurant Workers Say One Fair Wage Means Pay Equity, Less Sexual Harassment

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Restaurant workers in Central New York and across upstate say ending the sub-minimum wage would go a long way toward reducing poverty and sexual harassment.  The group “One Fair Wage” released a brief on gender pay in the restaurant industry Thursday, which finds two-thirds of tipped workers are women.  

One of them is Samantha Gibson, who’s worked in the industry for more than 25 years.

“Men say ‘hey why don’t you smile more? I’ll give you some more money.’  It’s just like all these things that you have to put up with because you’re making $2.70 an hour and I really think that having a real minimum wage would make it tremendously easier than having to put up with people treating you this way.”

Cara Mastro says she’s experienced all manner of what she calls appalling and disgusting sexual harassment from patrons…and even restaurant owners and managers. 

“If we at least have the $15 an hour minimum wage, it could give us just a little bit less stress and a little bit more power in a situation and being able to say no and to stand up for ourselves and to not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

It’s only been made worse by the pandemic. The brief finds that nearly all Upstate restaurant workers report a drop in tips, and 82 percent of them say the tips have decreased by more than half.  At the same time, more than half of servers report an increase in unwanted sexual comments from guests.

Chris Bates owns about 10 restaurants and employs about 50 to 120 people in the Finger Lakes region.  He says he’s spent the past 25 years hoping for the day the industry can gain the respect it deserves.  Bates says by far the biggest challenge is the subminimum wage and working for tips. 

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Saru Jayaraman

“It continues to create incredible disparity of income and it creates a continuous inequality for our industry. The fact that we have people doing equal work and not making equal pay because of the way that the tipping and the sub-minimum wage laws roll out in New York I find absolutely unacceptable.”

President of One Fair Wage President Saru Jayaraman says the benefits of eliminating the sub-minimum wage are obvious.  

“In the seven states that have One Fair Wage, the poverty gap is so much less. Women of color earn more, tips are higher, the business actually is booming, and sexual harassment is cut in half. So, let’s do this now as a state as we are addressing sexual harassment in the state.”

That’s a subtle reference to the allegations against Governor Cuomo.  She says Cuomo eliminated the tipped wage for all but restaurant workers in late 2019, and can do it again by executive order. Meanwhile, legislation is gathering sponsors in the senate and assembly.