The fight for the “battle for $ 15”: an employee with tips, a restaurateur and a representative
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Carrie Schweitzer has been a waitress since the age of 12.
Now 50, she said at the time that employers don’t check, so she lied and told them she was 17.
“I was 13 the first time I had my back pinched for an extra tip,” Schweitzer told ABC News.
She has worked in the service industry most of her life, and most of her life the federal minimum wage for tipping workers has been $ 2.13 an hour. Where Schweitzer works now, in Philadelphia, she earns $ 2.83 an hour, which is still far below the $ 7.25 an hour charged for other jobs. If she doesn’t earn the basic minimum wage from tips, restaurants are legally required to pay the rest, although some don’t.
In fact, the Department of Labor conducted a two-year survey of 9,000 restaurants nationwide and found that 84% of restaurants had committed some kind of violation. But one in nine restaurants broke the law by specifically committing a tip offense.
“If I could get a full-time salary, I wouldn’t have to skip steps and do embarrassing things for a tip,” Schweitzer said. “I wouldn’t have to put up with a man calling me ‘baby doll’ or ‘baby girl’.”
“But I’m a waitress,” she added, “so I’m here to be harassed.”
Like more than 4 million Americans, Schweitzer derives most of his income from tips. But although she works more than 40 hours a week, her pay is low enough to qualify for food stamps and public health insurance.
“Working full time and having to take social assistance makes me feel like an unappreciated person,” she said. “There is no excuse that a woman – her whole life – has to endure verbal abuse and sexual abuse just to get a tip for a living.”
This is a big reason why she is pushing for a minimum wage of $ 15 and ending the currently accepted lower wage offered to tipped workers.
The fight for $ 15, a movement dedicated to raising the federal minimum wage, was a key talking point during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
But since Democrats took control of Washington, their attempts to raise the minimum wage have failed. Attempts to include a minimum wage increase in the COVID relief program have failed. The Biden administration did what it could, raising the minimum wage for federal workers to $ 15 an hour.
“The minimum wage itself is woefully inadequate,” Representative Bobby Scott, D-Va, told ABC News. “There is no county in the United States where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.”
Scott, who introduced the Raise the Wage bill in the House, also pointed out that it would eliminate the minimum wage.
“So the idea,” he said, “is that everyone earns at least minimum wage as their base wage – and if they tip extra, that’s fine.”
While some Republicans believe the minimum wage should gradually increase over time, others have expressed concerns that its increase could lead to job losses, higher prices, or force the closure of small businesses.
But in 30 states and the District of Columbia, lawmakers stepped in and passed a minimum wage above the federal mandate of $ 7.25.
When it comes to restaurants, however, margins are already slim and overheads are high.
At Virtue, an upscale restaurant in South Chicago, Erick Williams said most of his servers can make at least $ 50,000 a year.
Recently, the city of Chicago increased its minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and its wage below $ 9 an hour, the latter being a victory for restaurateurs like Williams.
“No business can afford higher costs and lower profitability and stay in business,” he told ABC News. But he also acknowledged that the current policy will not solve the problems facing so many Americans like Schweitzer and that there is still a lot to be done.
“I imagine we would identify restaurants that are not bad actors, that do not earn their wages on the backs of their servers and that allow women to be abused at the table,” he said. “I think these are the ones that need to be regulated differently.”
As the fight for $ 15 continues, Scott told ABC News the House debate is not over and Republicans still have not come up with a concrete alternative.
“They didn’t come up with any,” Scott said, adding that maybe they could “support something less, and then maybe we can negotiate something in the middle. But we haven’t yet. – they didn’t adopt anything. “
Meanwhile, Schweitzer will continue to work full time and receive government assistance just to make ends meet.
“When I hear a lawmaker say he doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage,” said Schweitzer, “he tells me he doesn’t care 50% of America. That’s it. He doesn’t. don’t care about us. “
ABC News’ Liz Alesse, Rachel Scott, MaryAlice Parks, Mary Bruce, Shannon Crawford, Kelly Terez, Adia Robinson, Suzie Liu and Madeleine Wood contributed to this report.