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Dear neighbor, 


Last Thursday, Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) Boston, and I hosted a briefing about the culture of sexual harassment and assault in the restaurant industry, and what we can do in Massachusetts to end it.

The event, “#MeToo in the Restaurant Industry,” gave legislators and staff a chance to hear from four tipped workers, who testified about their experiences in the Massachusetts service industry, as well as Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Somerville’s Juliet restaurant. The women shared their personal stories about economic instability, their #MeToo experiences, and how it’s #TimesUp on the sub-minimum wage.
 
Thanks to the Boston Herald for highlighting this issue before and after the event, for sharing workers' stories of harassment on the job, and for discussing how the #MeToo movement is elevating working women's experiences.

Front page on Opening Day!


 
You can watch Channel 5's coverage of the event here
"The restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing private sector employers in Massachusetts but is also the lowest paying. A majority of workers in the industry work for the abysmal subminimum wage for tipped workers of $3.75; a majority of tipped workers are women who suffer from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior in order to feed their families in tips. 

Seven states, including California, require the restaurant industry to pay the full minimum wage with tips on top; these states have higher restaurant sales per capita, higher job growth in the industry, higher tipping averages, and half the rate of sexual harassment in the industry, because in those states women receive a full wage from their boss and do not have to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families. Governor Cuomo in New York has announced that he is moving New York State in this direction. In the #metoo moment, we urge Massachusetts to follow the lead of the seven states and New York, eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and cut sexual harassment in half in the industry with the highest rates of harassment of any industry."

- Saru Jayaraman, ROC United President and Co-Founder

Saru recently appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss the issue, and attended the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler as part of the #TimesUp campaign to end sexual harassment across industries.

Greater Boston’s restaurant industry includes more than 170,451 workers in 9,852 establishments. Women make up 52% of the industry’s overall restaurant workforce, but comprise 68% of the industry’s tipped restaurant occupations, and 71% of servers. Thirty-five percent of tipped workers in the Greater Boston area reported that they have been sexually harassed by customers, which is more than twice as many as non-tipped workers surveyed by ROC United.
 
Tipped workers experience a disproportionate amount of sexual harassment as a result of the broken two-tiered wage system. Relying on tips to make a living wage forces workers to tolerate sexual harassment from customers in return for “gratuities,” and they often receive additional pressure from management to dress in a revealing way to attract larger tips. Jayaraman explained that workers can also face sexual harassment from co-workers and managers who exploit this reliance on tips, requesting sexual favors in return for good service from the kitchen or being scheduled during busier and more lucrative shifts.
Credit: Nancy Lane, Boston Herald

“The hospitality industry is made up of hard-working, dedicated people who work long hours and give a lot physically and emotionally to make guests’ experiences great. It is important that restaurant workers are afforded the same protections, benefits, and opportunities as others. For many people, the restaurant industry is their first job and comes at a time where they are still learning about the world. Don’t we want to show them that they have worth and value so that when they go on to become bosses and managers they can instill that in their workplaces?”

Andrea Pentabona, a Boston-based bartender

 
"Sexual harassment is a daily concern for me.  I’ve seen comments on Yelp that are obviously about me, with references to the “skinny sexy black girl” who made their latte.  I regularly have men distracting me while I’m on bar to tell me I’m a tease or I look dominant when I work on the espresso machine.  A coworker once asked me if I was wearing anything under my skirt. When I told my boss, he told me to expect that from men like him."

Kristina Jackson, a local barista

 
"As a server working at a diner in western Massachusetts, I primarily worked the overnight shifts so that I could attend college classes. I made less than $3/hour, and quickly learned that I needed to live with sexual harassment—from customers, cooks, and managers—if I wanted a good tip, my true source of income.  After I refused sexual advances from managers, they scheduled me in sections that had few customers. Without a living wage, I was completely reliant on customers’ generosity and had to accept how they treated me. My rent, health, and education depended on it."

Marie Billiel, who now manages a restaurant in Cambridge

Women who have been sexually harassed and mistreated in restaurants around Massachusetts said it's time for the industry to change. (Herald video by Meghan Ottolini).

“As the only tip free restaurant in the Boston area, we take the economic stability and advancement of our staff very seriously. As business owners we've taken on the responsibility of ensuring our staff earns higher than the minimum wage--because we are well aware that the minimum wage is not a living wage in this area. A low minimum wage, and the two tiered wage system for tipped workers exposes workers to abuses that our industry has for too long accepted as business as usual. We are standing up as leaders in the hospitality industry to show that it is not only possible to have an award-winning and prosperous business while compensating our staff fairly and with dignity, but that fair wage practices is critical to our long term success.”

Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Juliet in Somerville

Juliet is one of ROC’s High Road employers, whose business model includes sharing profits with employees, offering benefits, and, notably, eliminating tipping altogether.

The event was also catered by Bon Me, another local High Road employer and founding member of the Sanctuary Restaurants project, which advocates for creating safer spaces for all in restaurants.

Rep. Farley-Bouvier and I filed legislation last session to create One Fair Wage, bringing Massachusetts in line with other states that eliminated their sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by incrementally increasing the sub-minimum wage until it reached parity with the minimum wage.  The proposal is being considered as part of S.1004/H.2635.

What we’ve learned from #MeToo is that it’s the power imbalance that leads to sexual harassment. If you depend on tips to make ends meet, you depend on your manager for good shifts, you depend on cooks and other staff members to help you do your job, and you depend on customers’ whims. The sub-minimum wage creates too many opportunities that can be exploited by predators.

It's time to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in Massachusetts. 
 
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