Restaurant Opportunities Centers United said it sees the restaurant industry undergoing structural change in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, and on Monday the group urged more changes in tipped wage laws.
“If we really are concerned about sexual harassment and sexual assaults in the industry, we really must examine and look at it from a structural level, not just individual actors,” said Saru Jayaraman, left, president and co-founder of ROC United, in a conference call that coincided with the first anniversary of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Those accusations put the anti-harassment #MeToo and #TimesUp movements into the national conversation.
The Weinstein allegations were followed by a number of sexual harassment charges within the restaurant industry, involving such high-profile names as John Besh in New Orleans, Mario Batali of the New York-based Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group and Mike Isabella of Mike Isabella Concepts in Washington, D.C.
“In the restaurant industry, in particular, we have seen numerous high-profile chefs and restaurateurs stepping down from their positions after acknowledging or being accused of sexual harassment and sexual violence in their restaurants,” Jayaraman said.
Jayaraman said ROC and its affiliated Food Labor Research Center found jurisdictions that allow a tipped wage, which lets restaurants and other businesses to pay as little as $2.13 hour and make up the rest to the minimum wage threshold through tips, have higher rates of sexual misconduct than the seven that do not.
She said ROC research found those states — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — report half the rate of sexual harassment in the workplace than those that allow the tipped wage credits.
In the restaurant industry, workers are at a special disadvantage, Jayaraman said.
“When they are forced to live on tips because their wages are so low … they are having to tolerate all kinds of inappropriate customer behavior in order to feed their families,” she said.
Jayaraman said the restaurant industry is seeing “structural change” to counter sexual misconduct in the workplace and that it is “noteworthy, impactful and important.”
Voters in the District of Columbia in June, for example, approved a measure to rid the nation’s capital of the tipped minimum wage credit by 2026.
But Jayaraman warned that the measure, known as Initiative 77, was opposed by the restaurant industry and that the D.C. Council could still intervene and overturn the change.
In Michigan, the Legislature passed two proposals in September, one to raise the state’s minimum wage and the other for paid sick leave, in the wake of the Michigan One Fair Wage coalition’s submission more than 373,000 signatures in support of a ballot proposal to incrementally increase the state minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and eliminate the tip credit $3.52 an hour.
Jayaraman said the Michigan Legislature enacted the measures to keep them off the ballot in November, and that lawmakers could rescind the new laws after the election — though ROC would consider that move illegal.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a series of public hearings on getting rid of the tipped wage credit in that state.
In the meantime, Jayaraman said the number of restaurants, “including some large companies,” that are supporting ROCs efforts on wages and sexual misconduct has been growing and today stands at nearly 700.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless