By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Last week the fight for fair wages once again made it to the Hill as legislators and advocates pushed for two pieces of legislation during congressional briefings on the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Raise Wage Act. But organizers advocating for tipped workers in the District say people are feeling pinch of income disparities now.
The Raise Wage Act (H.R. 582) would ultimately increase the federal minimum wage from 8.55 to $15 an hour within five years. The Paycheck Fairness Act, helps to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to push for more transparency in pay disclosures, and limiting the ways in which pay scales can be assessed. It would make the EEOC collect data and make it harder for employees to be discriminated against for inquiring about pay.
The legislation also offers protections for women and members of marginalized communities.
Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center gave testimony last week and offered insight to how women and particularly women are impacted by the current laws.
In her official testimony, Graves stated that:
“When women are shortchanged, families suffer. More than 24.9 million mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce, making up nearly 1 in 6 – or 26 percent – of all workers. The great majority of mothers in the workforce work full time. In 2015, 42 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners in their families, while 22.4 percent of mothers were co- breadwinners, meaning mothers’ earnings are critical to families’ financial security. And those working mothers also face a wage gap, paid only 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, a gap that translates to a typical loss of $16,000 annually.
Closing the wage gap would help lift women and children out of poverty. Nearly one in eight women in the U.S. live in poverty, with high rates for women of color, including 11 percent of Asian women, 21 percent of Black women and 18 percent of Latinas. More than 1 in 3 families headed by unmarried mothers lived in poverty in 2017, and over half of all poor children (58 percent) lived in families headed by unmarried mothers. Closing the wage gap is not only fair, it is urgently needed.”
The Raise Wage Act would also bolster pay for tipped workers which more often tend to be Brown and Black women. D.C. has been embroiled in a long standing battle to offer increased wages to tipped workers. Currently while D.C.’s wage is 12.50 an hour, tipped workers are at $3.89 an hour, with plans to go up to $5.00 by 2020.
Initiative 77 was introduced in the District to push tipped workers up to $15 minimum wage by 2025. However that bill was overturned by the D.C. Council.
The wage gap impacts many tipped workers in the District according to data for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and ROC D.C.
D.C. is home to about 56,000 workers in the restaurant industry, with 2,267 establishments, According to ROC United/D.C. data. Restaurant sales hit $3.8 billion in 2017. As the restaurant workforce is predicted to grow, however, the income disparities are glaring.
About 25 percent of tipped workers are on Medicaid and 16 percent utilize food stamps. About 24 percent of servers are on Medicaid and 17.4 percent use food stamps. Tipped restaurant workers using medicaid and food stamps are 24.9 percent and 14.7 percent respectively. This is compared to 11.5 percent and 9.1 percent of overall workforce on medicaid and food stamps.
“It’s an important issue issue regardless of where you live, but particularly in D.C. which has, as we see, income disparity and housing disparities all across the city. It’s definitely just a small microcosm of a larger issue,” said Candace Cunningham, and organizer with ROC D.C.
As the larger federal bills move towards a vote in the House and Senate, ROC D.C. will try to repeal the D.C. Council’s decision to overturn and keep pushing for higher wages for tipped workers.
While the referendum in D.C. for increasing wages for tipped workers is at a standstill, ROC D.C. still continues to “push as hard as we can on a national level and locally we’re continuing to focus on improving working conditions and building coalitions,” Cunningham said.