WASHINGTON – Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has joined the advocacy effort to enact “one fair wage” for every tipped restaurant worker across the nation.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United is fighting to “eliminate the two-tiered wage system by raising the separate, lower minimum wage for those who work for tips in the restaurant industry to match the regular minimum wage, so that no one has to experience the financial insecurity, discrimination, and sexual harassment that comes with being forced to live off tips.”
According to ROC United, there are currently seven states that have the same minimum wage for “people in the industry who work for tips and those who do not, and the same or comparable rates of tipping on top of wages, which proves that paying all workers one fair wage does not reduce or eliminate tips.” The seven states are Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Nevada, Montana and Minnesota.
Parker argued that low wages for tipped restaurant workers leads to an environment that puts women in danger of sexual harassment. Although she never worked in the restaurant industry, the Sex and the City actress said she is able to relate to the harassment that some women have experienced on the job.
“My own professional experiences are different. I recognize that I, too, normalized those situations in order to continue working and in order to not be thought of as difficult. To be a good colleague, to be a company player. And I think that kind of situation is much more serious and much more dire when wages are so unacceptable and when there are real issues of safety and basic human needs that are not been met,” Parker said on a conference call last week during which ROC United released the initial findings of their study involving experiences of sexual harassment within the restaurant industry.
ROC United President Saru Jayaraman said the organization has surveyed 233 women who previously worked in food service and a majority of them “indicated that their experience early on in restaurants impacted their tolerance for harassment later in life.”
“The full scope of the study over the next year is more quantitative analysis, a lot more surveys of women who worked in the industry in their youth and young women themselves who are currently in the industry and their experiences,” she said. “We’ll be doing dozens and dozens more interviews to really understand how this early experience impacts people later in life.”
Parker said having “one fair wage” for tipped restaurant workers should not be considered controversial.
“As a member of Time’s Up, we understand that there are issues across all industries that need to be addressed,” she said of the movement against sexual harassment. “And this was an area of particular interest for me because of the millions and millions of women that are affected. It doesn’t even seem terribly controversial for me to talk about enacting legislation that improves the lives of so many women who are such a critical part of our economy and also, more broadly, the economics of it make sense.”
“I think it’s a really exciting time to have these conversations, but it’s challenging because there’s a powerful lobby that would like to keep the status quo,” Parker added. “But I think it’s simply – it’s time to make the changes that affect all of us. And in terms of my own experiences, like I shared earlier, I didn’t work in the restaurant industry, but as these initial conversations began, just generally, about sexual harassment, I think a lot of us started to recognize that early on in our careers and, frankly, not so early on in our careers we were integrating into our lives situations and conversations and environments that were menacing and scary.”
Parker, who has endorsed her former Sex and the City co-star Cynthia Nixon for governor of New York, expressed optimism that Nixon would support the “one fair wage” campaign.
“We have been in contact with our governor [Andrew Cuomo]. We had been working to encourage him to support this, and I can’t imagine that Cynthia would be anything but not only supportive of this idea but advocate strongly on the behalf of ROC’s endeavors,” she said.
Parker said she would continue her political advocacy related to “one fair wage” and other issues.
“I think for me, I’m a citizen, I’ve always been active politically since I was a little girl,” the actress said. “I come from a politically active family, and so I will continue to work and try to be helpful.”