New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continued her advocacy for an increase to the federal minimum wage Friday night by tending bar and serving pizzas at a New York City restaurant.
The Congress member did so in partnership with One Fair Wage, an organization that works to increase the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers — like bartenders — is $2.13 an hour.
“Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job, it’s indentured servitude,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “All labor has dignity. And the way that we give labor dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth at minimum. We have to make one fair wage and we have to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, nothing less.”
@AOC: “Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job. It’s indentured servitude.” pic.twitter.com/BqI5TPeSXT
— ROC United (@rocunited) May 31, 2019
In New York City, where Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender prior to becoming a member of Congress, tipped workers must be paid a minimum of $10 an hour by their employer, with a guarantee that through tips they will receive at least $15 an hour. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the tipped and general minimum wage as part of the 2016-’17 budget.
Ocasio-Cortez argued a federal tipped minimum wage needs to become law in order to protect workers both from increasing costs of living and workplace harassment.
“When our rents are running away, when our food costs are running away, in dense cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, we need to make sure that people are paid enough to live, period,” the lawmaker said.
She argued that the need to cover high costs of living puts tipped workers in vulnerable positions not faced by workers that take home set salaries.
“I remember working in restaurants, and, you know, you would have someone say something extremely inappropriate to you, or you’d have someone touch you, and the thing is it would be the 28th of the month, the 29th of the month. And the first of the next month was rolling right around and you have a rent check to pay,” she said. “And so you are more likely to stand up for yourself and to reject sexual harassment on the 15th of the month, or maybe the 10th of the month, when you could pick up an extra shift to make up for telling that guy to go buzz off.”
She summed it up, “It is so real the amount of exploitation and harassment and labor violations that you will endure for the sake and the structure of tipped work.”
There’s growing momentum to raise the federal minimum wage
There is a growing movement around the US to raise the federal minimum wage, both for tipped workers and non-tipped workers. That movement has largely been led by service industry workers, particularly fast food workers, who have led strikes and work stoppages in major cities.
Some of this activity has been organized by groups like One Fair Wage and the influential Fight for $15. As innerdaily’s Matthew Yglesias explained in 2016:
Fight for $15 is an organizing campaign, largely funded by the Service Employees International Union, that advocates for a $15-an-hour wage floor in the fast-food industry, but more broadly campaigns for higher minimum wage laws and higher pay for all low-skill workers. The campaign prominently features protests and quasi-strikes by fast-food industry workers, as well as a general communications and lobbying strategy.
The group is by no means the only reason cities have been passing minimum wage hike laws, but it’s probably been the single most influential actor.
On the state level, these activists have seen success, with states like California, Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois passing legislation to raise their minimum wages to $15 per hour.
The federal government last raised the national minimum wage nearly 10 years ago, on July 24, 2009, when it went from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour.
Raising the minimum wage is popular with both Democratic and Republican voters, and Democrats in the House of Representatives developed legislation earlier this year, known as the Raise the Wage Act, that would make the federal minimum wage $15 per hour. As innerdaily’s Alexia Fernández Campbell explained:
In January, House Democrats introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would eventually double the federal minimum wage by 2024. The law would also tie future changes to changes in median workers’ pay. So if middle-class wages go up — or down — so would the minimum wage.
The bill, which has more than 200 co-sponsors (all Democrats), would also phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers such as restaurant servers and valets, which has been $2.13 an hour since 1996.
The House has not yet voted on the legislation, and it could face a tough time in the Senate; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not signaled strong support for raising the federal minimum wage in the past.
Despite this challenge, Ocasio-Cortez reiterated her support for the bill during her stint tending bar, tweeting, “Let’s pass #RaiseTheWage and get $15 an hour minimum for every worker in America.”
I was nervous that I may have lost my touch – still got it! That muscle memory doesn’t quit
Now let’s pass #RaiseTheWage and get $15 an hour minimum for every worker in America. pic.twitter.com/FR0ARUB7bd
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 31, 2019