Sorry, fair pay and a safe workplace aren’t on the menu
Diana Ramirez, Federal Senior Policy Advocate at Restaurant Opportunities Center, joins NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg for a dialogue about one of America’s most pervasive sources of inequality: the death of livable wages in the food industry and others.
Sorry, fair pay and a safe workplace aren’t on the menu
Sally: Diana Ramirez is my guest today. She is a Federal Senior Policy Advocate at the Restaurant Opportunity Center, also known as ROC, affectionately, where she works to advance one fair wage legislation and works both in the states and the federal government. Last year, she and her colleagues at ROC, DC spearheaded an Initiative, Initiative 77, which is very pertinent to us here in DC to raise the tip minimum wage from its very sad, low level $3.89 cents an hour to one fair wage. Diana now is with the National Women’s Law Center and you are a resident fellow under the inaugural fellowship program at the Center.
Diana: Thank you for having me. I got into this work because my sister was a restaurant worker in high school, in college. And as a first-generation Mexican American, my sister and I are first-generations. My parents came here from Mexico. We had to work through high school and we had to work through college and I found very geeky jobs, nerdy jobs at an Allstate Insurance Company and work there pushing papers and calling people and giving them estimates. And my sister worked at restaurants and I saw first-hand what living off tips does to a young woman, to their perception of what is acceptable, to the perception of how they can make money. And I saw that growing up and so when I moved away to college and came to Capitol Hill and then moved back home to continue doing policy work and throughout that time I never put two and two together.
I never related my sister’s experience with her upbringings in the restaurant industry. And what happens when, when you live off tips, is that, as a young woman, the majority of the income comes from tips. You’re depending on customers, whims, essentially for your take home pay because when you get paid as little as $2.13 cents an hour as it is in Texas, you don’t get a paycheck. It all goes back to taxes and then you’re just living off what customers want to give you and so that’s why I’m in this line of work. And I started doing some labor advocacy work and then just stuck with restaurant workers and restaurant worker advocacy.
Sally: Did you grew up in Texas. Was that home?
Diana: I did. El Paso, Texas.
Sally: Okay, there you go. I was a waitress three times in three different restaurants myself, and you really do have to be incredibly charming and competent and good at your job to earn much of anything. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t very good at the job. So I didn’t earn much but it is a really tough job and it’s mostly female, right in the restaurant business?
Sally: Tell us about that?
Diana: Two thirds of tipped restaurant workers are women. As a country, when we say we know that the sector of the workforce is majority women “but that’s okay you can pay them less and just have them make up the difference in tips.” That’s essentially legislated pay in equity. There’s already a huge gender pay gap in this country. We’ll add onto that the tip minimum wage. Unfortunately, tipped workers rely on food stamps at almost three times the rate as the rest of the U.S. workforce. There are people of color and of course, tipping is still very racist and very sexist. And so, when women have to put up with more inappropriate behavior to make that tip.
Sally: And it strikes me that we probably not want to know more about tipping and the tipping habits of Americans. I was reading something the other day about a guy who was delivering food for some of these door dash and Uber eats and he said only 47 percent – this a guy, I don’t know if it’s different for women, only 47 percent of the customers he had, where he would dash all over town to get bags of food and deliver them to various customers, 47 percent tipped. So that meant that most of the time he didn’t get any tips at all, which I’m sure is not unusual in the restaurant business as well.
Diana: Yes, tips are very unpredictable. It’s depends on the weather, it depends on how people are feeling that morning. It depends on people’s inherent biases and the law states that even when you don’t make tips the employer is still supposed to make it up.
Sally: Up to the minimum wage, whatever that is in the State or
Diana: Right or in the City, whatever the minimum rate is for that jurisdiction.
Sally: What actually happens?
Diana: What actually happens is that nobody keeps track of it because it gets even more murky, not only do they have to – the tips are supposed to make up the difference and so you have to keep track but it’s not on a shift to shift basis. It’s the average of the pay period. So if I go in, let’s say I’m a single mom, I have to work the good shifts because that’s when I get more tips. So I’m going to fight for the Friday and Saturday night shifts. Then I’m going to have to find night care for my kids, with friends and family, probably because there aren’t any nighttime – they’re very few and in some cities there aren’t any nighttime care providers. So I’m going to hustle.
I’m going to leave my kids with somebody. I’m going to go into work and let’s say it snows at night and we don’t have any customers. And let’s say I was born in this country, I speak the language. What if I didn’t? What if I wasn’t born in this country, what if I wasn’t documented, what if I don’t speak the language. But let’s say you overcome all of that. Let’s say you have the courage and go up to your boss and you say, “boss, you owe me money today because I didn’t make minimum wage.” He’s more likely to say, “Oh, Diana, don’t worry. I’ll just schedule you for the Saturday night shift and you’ll make it up.” So I’m subsidizing my own work and no one’s going to pay me back that time that he didn’t spend with my kids on Friday and I showed up, there just weren’t any customers. And the employer gets to pay me $2.13 cents an hour as little as.
Sally: And so some people are living in that. Now you said something important about a pay stub. Pay stubs are important because then you know, how many hours you worked and what you’re actually getting paid for. I’ve heard from restaurant workers that many of them don’t ever see a pay stub.
Diana: They don’t see a paycheck, right? So they probably do get some sort of electronic read out but because it’s not an actual check nobody is really waiting that Friday morning to get the check, right? Because it’s so small,
Sally: It’s either no money or so little money.
Diana: Right, it all goes back to taxes. So a salaried employee knows that on this day, every month you’re going to get paid, well restaurant workers don’t. And so it doesn’t matter if they get a pay stub or not. If they get something, if they get a physical printout, it’ll say, this is not a check. This is void. This is a pay stub. And you just read how much money you paid to taxes. So yes, the law states that employers have to give you a pay stub, but it’s not important to them so they probably don’t know that they have digital access to this and they probably don’t care. And because they’re just living off – it’s not even paycheck to paycheck, it’s shift to shift. These are shift to shift workers and it’s hard. How do you budget for your family when you don’t know how much you’re going to make every night? And so it’s hard for low income restaurant workers to even plan afterschool activities for their kids. It’s hard to plan something than a week or two in advance.
Sally: So let’s talk about what happened in DC in a minute. But before we do that, I want to congratulate you on the win in the House of Representatives. The first time in 10 years, the U.S. House of Representatives took up the minimum wage bill and voted to support it. You were instrumental in making that happen. Tell us about how that relates to our discussion on tips?
Diana: We passed the longest stretch in human history without an increase in the minimum wage, over 10 years.
Sally: And what is the minimum wage now?
Diana: $7.25 cents an hour is the Federal minimum wage. And for tipped workers is $2.13. Now the $7.25, hasn’t changed in 7 years. The $2.13 hasn’t changed in 28 years. And that’s because of the money, power and influence of a trade lobby called the National Restaurant Association. What we call the other NRA. The other NRA is one of the largest lobbying groups in Congress and they have historically advocated against policies that benefit workers, whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s fair, scheduling bills, sick days. Of all their industries where you would want the workers to take off if they’re sick the restaurant industry spend so much money trying not to give their workers a sick day – go figure and minimum wage increases. And so the other NRA has been very successful. And as you would guess, they give a lot of donations to these politicians and it’s a Disney company, it’s the Yum brands, it’s the Darden group, it’s the big chains that claim to be speaking for the small businesses. And they don’t. These are just,
Sally: They’re profitable. They can afford to pay a lot more.
Diana: Exactly. They spend more money working against paying increases than they would have if they just pay their workers.
Sally: So something interesting happened. First of all, you had a win, you had 231 members of the House of Representatives, a majority supporting the minimum wage bill. But also I read that McDonald’s has decided they’re not going to fight the $15 minimum wage anymore. So they broke off from the other NRA?
Diana: Yes, McDonald announced that they were no longer going to work against minimum wage increases. And I think that’s just because people are sick and tired of not making ends meet, right. Like I said, it’s been the longest stretch in US history. How do you justify that as an employer? How do you justify that as one of the main members of the National Restaurant Association and one of the biggest chains, you can’t justify that. And no matter how much they tried, it just was counterproductive. And so they came out and said, we’re just going to stop fighting this.
Sally: Do you think it’s a trend in the industry?
Diana: I hope so. I think that it just depends, it’s also no coincidence that the Democratic Party is in the majority in the House and so I think, had the Republican Party been in the majority, I don’t know that they would have backed off, honestly. I think they see the political writing on the wall and they know that it’s just not something that they’re going to win. And so they just backed off. Now, the Republican Party still controls the Senate and therefore the raise a wage act is not going into effect anytime soon. There needs to be a change in power in the party and the majority in the Senate and then of course the President has to sign it. And so I think that it’s not a coincidence and I hope that it’s a trend because while we were advocating on Capitol Hill and talking to offices about the importance of this bill we heard that other National Restaurant Association members would come in and they would say, “okay, well we know we need to raise the minimum wage. It’s just not $15, right. Let’s do $10, let’s do $12.” At least they’re conceding on principle,
Sally: But something needs to change. How much do you earn if you make $15 an hour? What’s your annual wage?
Diana: I think it’s $28,000. I think, I’m not sure.
Sally: So nobody nobody’s getting rich on $15 an hour, but it makes a big difference to families if they make 2, 3, $4,000 more a year.
Diana: Of course.
Sally: Undoubtedly. The One Fair Wage in DC measure that you were instrumental in getting adopted here was flipped by the DC City Council. Tell us about that?
Diana: So the Restaurant Opportunity Centers and the DC One Fair Wage Coalition filed a ballot initiative for One Fair Wage to get tipped workers the same minimum wage as everybody else in tips on top of that.
Sally: Two years ago?
Diana: This was going back to maybe 2014 when the coalition started but it was filed in 2016, was cleared for ballot access in early 2018 and it was on the ballot on June 19th of 2018. And we won with 56 percent of the vote because DC is a very progressive City and folks understand that people need to make a living wage – that you can’t depend on customers’ attitudes to feed your families. And it won but what we saw was that the restaurant association did a tremendous job in convincing their workers that this would be bad for them.
Diana: And it was a real fear. I’m not discounting the fear in those workers. When your employer holds of pre shift on the clock meeting, you have to be there. And they’re telling you if this measure passes, we’re going to go out of business and therefore, you’re not going to have a job. If we have to pay you a full wage, we’re going out of business. Or they would say, “People are going to know that you make $15 an hour now so they’re not going to tip you.” And both excuses are completely wrong because there are 7 States that already have one fair wage, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, California, and Nevada. They pay the regular minimum wage with tips on top and of course they have restaurants in those States, right? And it’s not,
Sally: And they’re thriving.
Diana: And they’re thriving. Yes, they have better wages and workers get better wages and better tips and the restaurant industry is actually growing. You see higher sales per capita, higher job growth, higher growth in tipped occupations. So the sky is falling argument that if we have to pay you somehow, we’re going out of business and that’s just not true.
Sally: And yet the DC, you walk around downtown DC on any night of the week and the restaurants are packed there. You can’t get a seat at the bar to have a beer. You can hardly get a seat at any of the tables every single night. I’m not talking just Saturday and Sunday. I live here, they’re thriving. Now, maybe they’re not thriving in all parts of the city but I was surprised that the City Council got scared off by the tactics of the NRA.
Diana: So this is what the NRA did. Not only did they convince their workers that this would be bad for them, but that was their cover, right? That’s their AstroTurf group. They created this, this fake group of restaurant workers that claim to advocate for keeping the tip system that we have now but really what was happening, they’re hiding behind the workers because the National Restaurant Association gives a lot of campaign donations. And just to give you an example, Chairman Phil Mendelson, in the previous election cycle he got donations from the Restaurant Association, restaurant members and then the election cycle during Initiative 77, we saw that he got 30 times more the amount of donations than the previous time. It’s not a coincidence that Initiative 77 was on the ballot, right? And so what happens is they give money to these elected officials and then they scare workers into advocating against their own interests.
Diana: And that’s the cover that they need. And for years the Restaurant Association went after these workplace justice policies and campaigns as the Restaurant Association, as businesses and people saw through it, and they’d lost over and over and over again. And then somewhere along the line, they said, “actually, why don’t we have the workers do our dirty job for us?” And that’s what they did. And that’s what they do. And they did it successfully, unfortunately in the District of Columbia. But like you said, we won a bigger battle in the House and the war’s not over yet. We need to win the Senate or pass it in the Senate and get a President who’s not going to veto it but it’s moving in the right direction. It’s creating the momentum for other States to introduce One Fair Wage legislation. This past State legislative session we saw almost, I think it was 11 or 12. I want to say 12 States who introduced one fair wage legislation. Now it didn’t pass in any of the States and or it got maybe to committee. And there needs to be a lot more groundwork done, but there is momentum. And now the federal legislation has created a benchmark for what a minimum wage increase should look like. And it includes tip to workers, it includes the disabled community.
Sally: Let me stop you and ask about the disability community because we work closely with them and they need consumer advocacy as much or more than anyone else. What are the rules right now?
Diana: I don’t know the exact rules but I know that that section of the law is 14C in the Fair Labor Standards Act and they’re allowed to be paid less by their employer.
Sally: Because they have a disability.
Diana: Because they have a disability. Exactly. Even though some of these workers, most of these workers contribute equally to the household – nobody should be treated less just because you have a disability. And when folks have a disability, you often require more arrangements around transportation, accommodations, more accommodations transportation accommodations even around your house, it gets expensive. And so how do we expect folks to thrive in their community if we’re saying “you don’t deserve to get paid as much as everybody else.”
Sally: What about the argument on youth workers, okay. That’s how you hear this. Herman Cain, the former head of the National Restaurant Association. “That’s how I got my start. How else are young people going to get into the workplace if they’re expected to be paid like everyone else, even though they don’t have the skillset?” How do you respond to that?
Diana: There are a lot of teenagers who have to work to contribute to their family income. And there are a lot of families who depend on the kids working to make ends meet. And also even if parents are able to hold down the finances in the family, they might still not be able to afford their kid to work somewhere and not get paid. Like unpaid internships is another problem, right, especially for people of color, for people with low income households. You just can’t afford to go off and get paid less, or go do a free internship. You have to have the same treatment as everybody else so that you can improve your situation and that you can contribute to your family.
Sally: And that their work is the same. They may be doing as much or more as anyone else. So why would we want to pay them less? Well, I think your movement has done, which we consider ourselves a part of it, the National Consumers League, has done a tremendous job of raising awareness around the country about how tipped workers are treated. People I think are shocked to hear how little they make and how youth workers are on the premise that they don’t have the talents or the work ethic, so we can pay them less. And then people with disabilities. I mean, that’s like, no, we don’t do that anymore. The Americans with Disabilities Act,
Diana: And farm workers are still,
Sally: Farmers workers and we have a long history of working on behalf of farmers. So I think raising awareness, like all movements, its two steps forward one step back. So in DC, we had a pretty close vote in City Council but a lot of DC residents were angry. There was an initiative on the ballot: they still are. And the City Council had the gall to say, “No, we’re not going to respect the views of the,” Do you think they’ll ever pay a price at the ballot box?
Diana: I think we’re already seeing that. We have a lot of challengers to the council members who are up for reelection and most of the challengers are running on a pro Initiative 77 platform. That is one of the reasons why they’re running because they believe that what the council did was wrong. Now they didn’t just overturn – yes, it’s horrible that they would overturn the will of the people. But when you look at the vote and you inspected a little closer, it gets even more disappointing, to say the least, because the way that the vote broke down was that Ward 7 and 8 with the highest black population and lowest income in the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly with over 60 percent of yes for Initiative 77. And then where you get into the more white Ward, the more affluent Ward, the only Ward where it lost by a sliver, not even 1 percent, it was less than 1 percent was worth 3. And, you know, that’s a Chevy Chase area. That’s like well, not Chevy Chase,
Sally: Probably the most affluent Ward in the city.
Diana: Right, and so
Sally: But DC City Council voted against overturning it, right. Mary Cheh represents Ward 3.
Diana: Council member Cheh was the one who was from the very beginning, said, “I am pro one fair wage. I’m behind you all the way. My Ward might have just narrowly gone in the other direction, but I believe in giving workers what they deserve.” And so when the Council overturned Initiative 77, they weren’t just saying, we don’t care what you think. They’re were saying “we don’t care what black workers think. We don’t care what our black constituents think. We don’t care what low-income constituents think.” And this is exactly who this policy was going to benefit. And voters industry in Ward 7 and 8 recognized that. But unfortunately, the National Restaurant Association has more influence over the Chairman and those Council members who voted to overturn Initiative 77.
Sally: I want to mention that in several very red States, Arkansas comes to mind, minimum wage referenda on the ballot passed overwhelmingly. It seems to be an issue that many Americans, no matter their party affiliation think it’s a fair issue. It’s one of the few issues where you really have a consensus among Republicans and Democrats. I think it’s fascinating because our Congress doesn’t reflect that.
Diana: No, unfortunately and it didn’t. It also happened in Maine. In Maine in 2016, there was a one for, it was a minimum wage ballot initiative with one fair wage. And that ballot initiative got more votes than Trump and Clinton combined. So people came out and were not voting for president. They didn’t care. They wanted an increase in the minimum wage. And that’s what draws people to the polls and it’s a bipartisan issue and it’s a human issue. People need money to feed their kids.
Sally: Do you think that’s because of self-interest, people who are rushing to the polls are themselves benefiting or is it a general consensus that people are living in poverty because of the minimum wage?
Diana: I think it’s both but I think it’s more so that it’s a policy that they can, they know how it’s going to affect them directly. And maybe some politician speak over people’s heads sometimes, and they don’t know how climate change is going to help them when they can’t pay the rent this month, they can’t focus on climate change, climate change isn’t, it should, we should get to a place where people’s basic needs are being covered, are being met so that we can focus on tackling bigger policy issues that are just as existential as a minimum wage. But unfortunately, if you can’t put a roof over your head, if you can’t feed your kids, if you can’t go to work, you don’t have time to worry about other things. And I think these types of ballot initiatives communicate just that, people see it, people can relate to it and they say, “yes, that’s going to help me,” I will go to the polls for that.
Sally: Tell us some of the lessons you’ve learned and for other advocates on a whole range of social justice issues?
Diana: The biggest takeaway in this campaign, in particular, is that I was floored by the amount of vitriol that came out of some of the workers and led by the Restaurant Association against this ballot initiative and one fair wage in general. And it wasn’t just, “well my boss is telling me that it’s going to, but it’s going to cost me my job so I can’t really be in favor of it.” It was this deep hatred of the server of color who was working in the regular Mom and Pop diner, because she’s not a professional bartender. Like I am at the Hamilton. I make $30, $40 an hour. We don’t need one fair wage. So we would sit down with him and would say, “Okay, well, what about Quantenna, who’s working as a server at the Grill or who’s now delivering pizzas and she’s still a tipped worker. Don’t you think she deserves to make at least $15 an hour plus tips? “Oh, no, she’s not a real worker. She doesn’t deserve it.” They literally would say those things.
Sally: And so it’s a real class divided in an ethnic and racial divided [inaudible 28:42].
Diana: Yes. The majority. The majority of these high end bartenders at these high end restaurants,
Sally: Mostly male?
Diana: Were mostly white male. We expected the Restaurant Association to come after us, of course. I didn’t expect this sort of Trumpian response to “you don’t deserve it because you’re a woman of color. I do because I’m a white man working at this high end steak house.” And I mean, we effectively communicated that to workers that “yes, everybody deserves this” and that proved to be the case at the ballot box. But as an organizer, how do you sit down with these folks and have that discussion and break through the racism and the classism. And I think one of the biggest lessons,
Diana: Exactly, sexism. That is one of the biggest lessons learned is in this era of post-Trump where hate crimes are going up or he’s tweeting racist remarks at members of Congress.
Diana: You have to now be prepared for that kind of bash backlash. And it really took us by surprise in the beginning.
Sally: And have you heard this from others who era in these battles, the ROC people and others. Has this issue emerged in other communities?
Diana: It has, we see it happening now in the State of Michigan, where they collected enough signatures to put, not only a minimum wage initiative on the ballot with One Fair Wage, but also paid sick days. So yes, the Restaurant Association is rallying up their workers to come out against it. But what we saw there was the lame duck Republican legislature adopted the ballot initiatives in their entirety as bills, and they passed them as law. So that during the lame duck session they can gut them because by bypassing it as a bill, it takes them off the ballot.
Diana: So they didn’t want minimum wage and sick days to draw people to the polls because those folks were more likely to vote Democrat than they would Republican. So they feared losing their seats. So they adopted the two ballot initiatives. And then when it flipped anyway and they were in the lame duck session, I’m sorry, when after the election, they gutted the bills and so ROC and the Michigan One Fair Wage Coalition, and the Time to Care Coalition are suing the State of Michigan for having done that. And so now we’re going through a legal battle in the State of Michigan. But there are these attacks at all levels, right? It’s the illegal attacks. It’s the organizing, it’s the policy. And you do really have to think from all angles.
Sally: 10 steps ahead. So you’re now at the National Women’s Law Center?
Sally: What’s on your agenda?
Diana: So I am still focusing on One Fair Wage and we focus on a federal legislation for One Fair Wage, but also help States pass local bills. So whatever research they need on how this is a women’s justice issue, how this is an issue for women of color and we work in coalition, we work with members of Congress to really help them know the facts and prepare them to take the right votes. And so we played an important role with the advocacy on the raise a wage act because we were there presenting the issue as a women’s rights issue.
Sally: And answering a lot of questions because we had your interview scheduled for and all of a sudden we had to scramble, but that was great because we knew that the minimum wage was finally going to come up on the House floor.
Diana: Exactly. And it’s the first time in U.S. history that either Chamber of Congress voted to give tipped workers the same minimum wages as everybody else – first time.
Diana: Thank you. And the reason why we even have a sub minimum wage for tip workers to begin with is because after emancipation employers demanded the right to hire freed slaves and not pay them anything and just let them work off tips. So we saw that practice pickup with the Pullman Train Company. The Brotherhood of Pullman Porters came together to form the first black union.
Sally: Were they working essentially for tips, the Pullman union?
Diana: So they would carry people’s bags and they would serve, serve the train passengers and sometimes they would have to babysit people’s kids or jump and dance for the pleasure of the writers, of the white writers. And so the Pullman train porters were – they didn’t receive a wage. They were essentially being given this is what
Sally: The privilege of working here and we’ll give you a tip if you do all the right things and maybe you won’t get tipped at all but we’re not paying you anything.
Diana: We are not paying you anything. We are doing you a favor just by hiring you. And so those workers came together and formed the first black union and they fought for their rights. And that started in Chicago and it was great. Restaurant workers never did that. Restaurant workers never came together because it’s such a transient workforce. You’re always looking for the highest tips. So you might work here for two weeks and then you’re going to go somewhere else for another two months and then you might not get enough hours.
Sally: Oh, so restaurants are rough places to work. I mean, my bosses were tough to work for. Some of them were downright mean and nasty, not to mention sexist and sexual harassment was a part of the job in the day when I worked in restaurants. So people would come and go like every two months there’d be a total turnover.
Diana: Exactly. So it’s hard to really come together as a workforce when you’re not together and when you complain you bring up the very important issue of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. The complaints of sexual harassment to the EOC, are the highest from the entertainment industry, including restaurants. And that is because again, if you’re working for tips and you have to please the customer, the customer is always right. You are going to, unfortunately deal with a lot of inappropriate behavior. Now, if you’re able to push back and you complain to your bosses, they’re just going to cut your hours because they don’t want to deal with a whiny employee, or they’re going to,
Sally: Chefs also can be very mean to wait people. That’s a conflict area. If you bring food back and say the customer doesn’t like it, unless you’ve got the support of the boss, that chef will go, “what the hell’s wrong with it and you’re complaining and take it back or whatever” depending on – I worked at IHOP, it was a rough season and you lived in fear of taking a plate back that a customer said wasn’t up to their expectations.
Diana: It’s very hard and that sub minimum wage system sets up an environment in the restaurant where everybody has control over that woman’s take home pay because the minute you walk into a restaurant, the host decides where you sit. So if the host doesn’t like you, they’re not going to sit a big party at your table or anybody in your area for that matter. And then the customers will tip you. And so they decide how much tip you get. And then the back of house can delay your food, burn your food, give you dirty dishes, all of that affecting your, take home, pay at the end of the shift. And all of those things are out of your control: are completely out of your control.
Sally: And you’re bringing back memories? Not good ones.
Diana: No. And so if you have the courage to go to your boss and say, “I experienced this today. I didn’t make enough money today. The chef didn’t want to fix my order.”
Sally: He threw a plate at me. Stuff like that used to happen. Oh yeah. Food, plate, yes.
Diana: ROC’s president and co-founder Saru Jayaraman was on a local NPR station in Oakland a few months ago and she had a caller call in and say, I experienced all of those things growing up and I didn’t realize it was sexual harassment until now that I’m listening to you. And what I was forced to do was every shift at the beginning of the shift, I had to go to the kitchen and expose my breasts to the staff if I wanted my food to come out on time. And if I didn’t, they would delay my food.
Sally: Unbelievable. But that doesn’t surprise me because I lived in that. It was a really stressful environment.
Diana: Right. And then we see all the stories in the press now with a restaurant owners and chefs getting into the sexual harassment scandals and being sued,
Sally: Look at the head of the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain, accused serial sexual harasser.
Diana: Exactly, and you have people like him advocating for these policies. And so yes, it creates a horrible environment for that type of harassment.
Sally: Tell us about the ripple effect of a young woman’s experience as a server in a restaurant and then she goes on to her next job?
Diana: One in two people in this country will work at a restaurant at some point in their lives. It’s usually the entrance to the workforce. So when you’re 16, 17, 18 years old, it’s your first job and as a young woman, if you’re sexually harassed two times more than your colleagues and your friends, it sets up what is appropriate. The restaurant industry is setting up what’s the standard, a really horrible high bar for what’s appropriate behavior. So then when you move on to other industries, if you do, and something happens in that industry, you’re less likely to report it because it’s never as bad as it was in the restaurant. And so you’ll always be comparing that first job or your later experiences to that first job but it happens to be the industry that has a highest rates of sexual harassment. So that’s really something we have to work on as a country and really bring down those rates because it’s no wonder that now we have the Me Too movement and the One Fair Wage picked up steam because after the Me Too movement and it really uplifted the issue because women are now empowered to say enough, I don’t need this. I don’t want this. I am a restaurant professional and I deserve professional wages.
Sally: One last question, what’s the preferred term waiter or waitress or server.
Diana: I like server because it’s gender neutral but it depends on the work,
Sally: So it’s okay to use any of that. Okay. We’re out of time. Diana Ramirez, I can’t thank you enough for your leadership. You’re really inspiring and a change maker.
Diana: Thank you.
Sally: Change has already come about. I know we’re going to get the One Fair Wage in DC.
Diana: Keep working.
Sally: It’s one step back, two steps forward.
Diana: That’s right.
Sally: And thank you for all that you do for low income workers.
Diana: Thank you, Sally. Thank you for having me.
Sally: Thank you.