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For Immediate Release


Press Release

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Madeleine Dean Joined One Fair Wage Advocates for Equal Pay Day Event on Equal Pay & Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Experts and advocates unveiled findings of the new research documenting how the subminimum wage perpetuates gender pay inequality and contributes to the restaurant industry having the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the US.

Earlier today, the day before Equal Pay Day, One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit representing subminimum wage workers, hosted an Equal Pay Day press call featuring Senator Bernie Sanders to discuss the findings of a new report documenting how the subminimum wage for tipped workers keeps suppresses the income of service workers while allowing for sexual harassment to run rampent in the resturant industry.

The call featured restaurant workers, employers, experts and leaders at women’s advocacy organizations like TimesUp, UltraViolet, United States of Women, and Futures Without Violence, who highlighted how the subminimum wage for tipped workers serves as a major source not only of poverty and gender pay inequity among service workers in the restaurant industry —but also of sexual harassment and abuse on the job, which disproportionately affects women and Black tipped workers making a subminimum wage —particularly during the pandemic.

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  • The report, titled, “The Tipping Point: How the Subminimum Wage Keeps Incomes Low and Harassment High,” found that:
  • Overall, 71% of women restaurant workers have beensexually harassed at least once during their time in the restaurant industry. This percentage is the highest of any industry reporting statistics on sexual harassment.
  • These experiences represented not one-time harassment, but often persisted over days, weeks, and in some cases, months. Thirty-seven percent of the workers interviewed described situations in which the harassment continued for a month or more, and that the behaviors during this period occurred frequently or almost every shift (35%).
  • While women restaurant workers are most frequently harassed by customers,they are also pervasively sexualized and sexually harassed by supervisors, managers, or restaurant owners. Combining tipped and non-tipped workers, 44% stated they had been victims of sexual harassment from someone in a management or ownership role.
  • Tipped workers who receive a subminimum wage experience sexual harassment at a rate far higher than their non-tipped counterparts. Tipped workers were significantly more likely to have been sexually harassed than their non-tipped counterparts: over three quarters versus over half (76% vs. 52%). 
    When workers reported the sexual harassment, tipped workers were less likely to say that the situation was corrected than their non-tipped counterparts.
  • Virtually all (98%) of the harassed women workers reported experiencing at least one incident of retaliation when all forms of retaliation were taken into account; tipped workers experienced significantly and substantially more retaliation than their non-tipped counterparts.


One Fair Wage, a national organization representing subminimum wage workers, and host of today’s call, also released a briefing on how the subminimum wage for tipped workers creates legislated gender pay inequity in the restaurant industry, perpetuating the gender pay gap and leading to disproportionately higher rates of poverty for women. Specifically, the briefing reports:

  • In the U.S, the average female restaurant worker earns 80 percent of what their male counterpart earns. This disparity costs women more than $200,000 over a lifetime.
  • In the U.S., female restaurant workers are 1.3 times more likely to live in poverty as male restaurant workers. In general, tipped workers are 2.3 times more likely to live in poverty than the overall workforce. Among tipped workers, female tipped workers have a 38% higher poverty rate than male tipped workers. Female tipped workers are also 1.4 times more likely to to rely on food stamps and medicaid compared to male tipped workers.
  • The seven states with One Fair Wage - a full minimum wage with tips on top, as called for by the Raise the Wage Act, have gender pay gaps that are one quarter (25%) less for all restaurant workers and nearly one third (31%) less for tipped restaurant workers than states with a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour. The Raise the Wage Act can thus reduce the gender pay gap in the restaurant industry by over one quarter.


On Monday, a massive coalition of nearly 100 women leaders sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging the nation’s top Democrats to not compromise for anything less than 100% of the full minimum wage for tipped workers, arguing that anything less than a full minimum wage with tips on top results in the restaurant industry having the highest levels of sexual harassment and gender based violence of any industry. Senators are expected to be negotiating this week over the passage of the Raise the Wage Act - legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and ending the subminimum wage for tipped workers. In the letter, the nearly 100 women leaders propose compromises such as adding tax breaks for small businesses and expanding timelines to achieve the full minimum wage for tipped workers - but firmly asserts that anything less than a full minimum wage, even if it takes a longer timeline, is not acceptable. 


“COVID-19’s devastation of the service sector has been well documented, including the closure of thousands of independently-owned restaurants and the unemployment, underemployment, and destitution of millions of food service workers nationwide,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. “Destitution among these workers can be traced in large part to the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, still an unthinkable $2.13 an hour at the federal level. A legacy of slavery, the subminimum wage for tipped workers persists in 43 states, and has subjected a largely female workforce of servers, bartenders, bussers, and others to economic instability and the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry for decades. 

“Now, thousands of tipped workers, disproportionately women and women of color in particular, are returning to work as restaurants have re-opened for indoor or outdoor dining. Until now, however, no study has thoroughly documented service workers’ experiences of working in restaurants during the pandemic. Understanding these workers’ experiences is critical not only to address the needs of these workers and their families, but also to stem the public health crisis. The CDC reported in September 2020 that adults are twice as likely to contract the virus after eating in a restaurant. Food service workers have thus become at once essential workers and public health marshals, enforcing critical mask and social distancing protocols in one of the most dangerous social environments for spreading the pandemic. Unfortunately, unlike all other essential workers, they are not paid even a minimum wage and thus continue to live at the mercy of customers’ tips,” added Jayaraman.

This Wednesday, March 24th, the United States commemorates Equal Pay Day is the symbolic day dedicated to raising awareness of the gender pay gap. In the United States, this date symbolizes how far into the year the average woman must work in order to earn what the average man earns in the previous year regardless of experience or job type.

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