Restaurant Justice is a Women’s Rights Issue

I (along with RLA founder Sarah BS) have been working quite a bit this past fall on spreading the word about the Minimum Wage Act and Paid Sick Days Act in Washington, DC that is still under consideration by the DC City Council. The DC minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.77/hr, which simply isn’t enough, given the potential variation in customer tips. Here’s a bit of background on the work, and why I as a female restaurant worker am in support of the Minimum Wage Act and Paid Sick Days Act, and why these bills are women’s rights issues.

Specific information about the state of these bills can be read about here.

Since I have lived in DC, I have had the opportunity to work at several restaurants. I am currently working at two restaurants, one of which strongly prioritize the needs of their workers and their worker’s health. However, I have come to realize that this is exceptional in the restaurant industry.

I have not had the pleasure or responsibility of children yet, but I have witnessed first hand the struggles and the compromises female co-workers with children go through to make ends meet. Even yesterday, I asked a co-worker if she could cover for my shift, she hesitated. She told me she wanted to celebrate her son’s birthday and initially told me she could not cover my shift. Then she said, she was strapped on cash, and could skip out on the event after all. At this restaurant, the most I have made in a shift in the past month has been $50 for around 5 hours of work. My co-worker with the son works at the restaurant every day, often doing double shifts from early in the morning until late at night. She is also a student. I struggle to support my own expenses and bills on this wage. And I see that female restaurant workers have to make difficult sacrifices in order to support their families. Some of them work when they are very pregnant, many of them miss the opportunity to raise their children themselves due to long work hours. This is not to mention, wage inequity based on gender and a history of sexual harassment in the industry that many female workers endure in silence because they are afraid to lose their jobs. I’m certainly included in the last, I’ve had countless instances of male co-workers or managers demanding that I touch them, asking me on dates, or harassing me when I was in the kitchen prepping a dish.

I work with an organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center where I aim to educate others and push policy to reflect the needs of restaurant workers. In restaurants, many of us earn little more than $8.25 an hour on good weeks and less than minimum wage on bad weeks. Tips are unsteady, particularly for busboys, food runners, and bar backs, who only receive a small share of the tips waiters receive, and for waiters at less expensive restaurants.

There were instances that I’ve earned as little as $30 in tips after working at ten hour shift. Often, my $2.77/hr paycheck went to taxes, leaving me with blank checks. Much of my money went to rent, which is fixed, and I was unable to buy healthy foods, or have much, if any, expendable income. In addition to being burdensome, this low pay makes me and others, particularly those who choose restaurant service as a career, feel disrespected professionally. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this would be if I had children, or couldn’t get paid sick days for either a personal health issue or my children’s health.

That is why I support the raising the minimum wage, which would help ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and are able to provide for their families, as they work so hard to do.

This Upworthy has important and easy to understand information about hard statistics that industry workers face, and why restaurant work brings issues of race, class, and gender together in policy and organizing.

If you are interested in the issue, I would also suggest taking a look at this website: or to get involved with ROC.

And if you live in DC, I strong urge you Tweet at @VincentOrangeDC and @marionbarryjr to stay firm on their support of #paidsickdays with no amendments.

This article was written by Anna Hovland. Her bio can be found on RLA’s “About” page:

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