Tonight will likely be the busiest night of the year for many restaurants. But for the thousands of women working in the restaurant business tonight will be another night where they are purposefully left out of the gains.
A new report released this week by the Restaurant Opportunity Center United shows that women who work in the restaurant industry face systemic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days and five times more harassment than the general female work force. A direct contributor to this systemic discrimination is the success of restaurant lobbyists in keeping the federal minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers frozen at only $2.13 per hour for the past 20 years.
According to the report, 7 of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Most of these occupations are primarily female and pay median wages below the poverty line. The restaurant industry follows what the report calls a “conscious business model of confining women to the lower-paid positions within restaurants.”
The report reveals the discrimination is wide-spread and systemic. Women are confined to the lower-paying segments of the industry such as quick-serve and family style rather than the highest-paid fine dining segment. That means that even within the same job classification of server, full-time year-round female servers are paid just 68 percent of what male servers are paid. Over a work career, that means the industry takes an extra $320,000 from each female server.
An immediate short-term answer to the wage disparity would be to raise the minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers. In 1996, restaurant industry lobbyists convinced Congress to overturn 30 years of past practice that provided that the subminimum wage for tipped workers automatically rose with federal minimum wage increases for other workers.
Since then, seven states have eliminated the subminimum status of tipped workers entirely and provide that restaurants must pay them at least the minimum wage.
But even if the federal subminimum for tipped workers were raised to 70 percent of the normal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (the same percentage as before 1996), that increase to $5.08 per hour would immediately improve incomes for the families of nearly 837,200 workers, 630,000 of whom are female, who are not in states that already provide higher minimums or subminimums, and raise the wage floor for five million women. It would also decrease the gender pay equity gap in the industry by one fifth.
The National Restaurant Association just released its 2012 forecast which predicts the restaurant industry will earn a record-breaking $635 billion in revenue for the year. With record-breaking revenue projections for the large restaurant chains that dominate the industry I think it’s safe to suggest they can pay their female workers a fair wage.
Photo from jmrosenfeld via flickr.