Tonight’s hearing on the subminimum wage in front of the House Labor Committee was an intense battle of words and perspectives. Considering that this particular issue affects a workforce that is 70% women, it was disappointing to see that less than half of the people testifying were women. None of the Representatives sitting on the Labor Committee were women. This probably explains why some of the Representatives kept asking what connection could there possibly be between this subminimum wage and the issue of sexual harassment.
Many of the women who testified tonight admitted to being sexually harassed at work and not complaining nor file any grievance with management out of fear of retaliation. This retaliation amounts to fewer shifts, slower shifts, fewer tables and slower sections. In this industry, customers have the ability to personally dock an employee’s pay based how much they enjoyed their server’s performance. The $2.89 base salary that servers earn is negligible after taxes. Servers are at the mercy of a customers whim and certain types of behavior are rewarded with cold, hard cash.
Up until tonight this always heated debate was fairly respectful. All that goodwill blew out the window tonight when gender issues came up. This aspect of the conversation seemed to confuse many of the restaurant owners, some of whom claimed that sexual harassment is not an issue in the restaurant business.
The “gentleman” who was on hand to represent the 99 Restaurants actually testified publicly, out-loud, “And if anyone experiences sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, then they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing it to happen.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by what those in positions of power who are defending an outdated system that makes a mint off what is basically a free labor force are willing to say while desperately clinging to status quo. For the record, as I was growing up here in Providence, my mother was single with two children. She worked in restaurants(mostly fine dining) and in jewelry factories while attending college. She experienced sexual harassment on a consistent basis in restaurants. As a child I found this to be disturbing, but my Mom is not ashamed. In fact I am proud of her and I find her efforts to be heroic. I also understand why she did not complain to the owner or manager. She relied completely on tips and so did her children.