A congresswoman, a state rep, a city councillor speak up for minimum wage for tipped workers

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, state Rep. Brandy Fluker-Oakley, and Boston City Councillor Lydia Edwards expressed support for a minimum wage for tipped workers at a virtual Women’s History month event held on March 26.

“Massachusetts Women Workers Rising: Building a Path Forward Together” was hosted by the organizations One Fair Wage, Matahari Women Workers Center, and Mass Jobs With Justice.

Speakers from each group promoted the One Fair Wage bill, a proposal that would stop employers from paying a subminimum wage for tipped workers.

“Nobody should live in poverty regardless of their employment, but the fact that restaurant workers are not being paid a living wage is appalling and we need to chip away at this system,” said Fluker-Oakley, who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan in the 12th Suffolk district. “Massachusetts is in a position to do that,” she added. “We can limit the number of workers experiencing poverty by becoming a one fair wage state.”

A new report from One Fair Wage asserted that more than two thirds of Massachusetts tipped workers are women and over a third of the women are mothers. The report noted that female restaurant workers are 1.4 times more likely to live below the poverty line than their male counterparts. Almost 90 percent of all workers in Massachusetts have seen a decline in tips during the pandemic, and about 58 percent said that because of tips, they are reluctant to enforce health and safety Covid-19 precautions [with customers], according to the One Fair Wage report. 

“As infuriating as it is for us to hear those statistics time and time again, I’m grateful for them because they hit in such an acute and painful way that it ensures that we never grow complacent in doing this work,” Pressley said. “Because as hard as it is to hear those statistics, it’s harder to be living in that reality every day.”

The event opened with remarks from Angella Foster, a Matahari organizer and  domestic worker, and Alex Gladwell, a co-founder of the Greater Boston Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid. 

Fluker-Oakley said the One Fair Wage bill would directly help workers in her district, which she described as “very diverse” while noting that “we have a higher percentage of restaurant workers and service workers than the state’s average.

“We also must recognize the interconnectedness of our community’s problems,” she said. “They are not in isolation.”

Edwards, the councillor for the North End, Charlestown, and East Boston, said many of her constituents are either restaurant owners or workers. She referenced America’s history of tipping by noting that subminimum wages tipping started in the 1930 with Black workers were given jobs but no wages; they were expected to earn their pay by tips instead.

“When we say it’s not just about paying people what they’re worth, it’s about ending the legacy of slavery,” Edwards said, “it’s really about ending horrible conversations that needed to be ended decades ago.”

“For six years I worked in the hospitality industry and that experience – overlaid with my experiences as a woman, as a Black woman – is an experience that I draw from everyday,” Pressley said. “I know what it is when people look over you and through you.”

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