Today is Day 26 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today is 2/13 and our action is to to raise awareness about the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13. If you plan on eating out this week, speak with the restaurant manager about why this economic justice issue matters to you. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
Ethical eating is an issue close to my heart. The food that we eat connects us to our planet and to other people. Restaurant and other food workers play key roles in America’s modern food chain. But they are often overlooked and their rights trampled.
“It really opened my eyes. It was Latinos cooking, white women working graveyard shifts, men working during the day. I saw the racism, sexism, and low wages in the industry,” says Claudia Muñoz, a Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United leader. Claudia used to earn $2.13 an hour—the federal minimum wage for tipped workers for the last 20 years. Although the law requires employers to make up the difference between that and the regular minimum wage if tips fail to cover the gap, the reality is that employers often don’t.
Claudia made only about $160-$250 per week in tips and often worked over 40 hours a week. Her tips rarely made up the difference between the tipped minimum wage and the full minimum wage for non-tipped workers. But Claudia was often told to report more tips than she actually earned, so that the restaurant wouldn’t have to pay the difference.
Claudia’s story is not an anomaly. The restaurant industry has more than 10 million workers and ROC-United has documented extensive poverty, discrimination, and health and safety hazards in the industry.
The good news is that there is something that we can do about it! We ask you to mark today, 2/13, with an action to support workers who are paid as little as $2.13 an hour by their employers.
This is a big week for the restaurant industry, with many people celebrating Valentine’s Day, so let’s show that we care how restaurants treat their workers. If you are going to be dining out this week, ask to speak to the manager.
Tell the manager, “Thank you, the food was delicious and the service was great. I also wanted to let you know that I have recently learned that the federal tipped minimum wage for workers is $2.13 an hour. As a customer, I believe that those who prepare and serve my food should be making a living wage.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Claudia’s story and restaurant workers’ rights, one resource is the new book, Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us, by Saru Jayaraman. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is working with ROC-United to promote Behind the Kitchen Door, and more than 500 UUSC supporters have committed to helping. If you are reading this book or planning to, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected!
We can change the national conversation about what a truly sustainable food system is—a system where workers are paid a living wage and treated with dignity and respect.
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh is co-minister of the Winchester (Massachusetts) Unitarian Society, and the UUA Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts’ Acting Director of Congregational Development. He is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology from Skinner House Books, The Joy of Just Eating: Food for Personal, Public, and Planetary Well Being (working title).
P.S. Buy Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us between now and February 23. Purchases made now through Powell’s Books and Amazon count towards the bestseller list. Please consider buying from one of these retailers between now and February 23 to help put Behind the Kitchen Door on the bestseller list.
If you are making a purchase after February 23, please buy through the UUA Bookstore. And if at any time you are planning to make a bulk order of 10 or more copies, you can do that through the UUA Bookstore at 20% off! All proceeds from the book, wherever it is sold, go to support the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a restaurant workers’ rights organization.