by Martin Heroux
On October 17th, I attended the Working Women Town Hall in East Orlando to hear Congressman Alan Grayson, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and several community leaders speak on issues facing women and families. Minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, earned sick time, and paid maternity leave were among the issues discussed. As a long time food service industry employee I know first-hand what it is like to work for minimum wage, or even less, and women make up the majority of this low wage job field. Families that rely on income from the service industry struggle to make ends meet with an hourly wage far below the federal minimum.
Food service employees in Florida are paid just $4.91 an hour, over $3 less than the state’s minimum wage. Restaurant owners are allowed to pay their employees a substandard wage and force their employees to rely on the generosity of customers to provide for their families. Knowing what you are going to make in a week is critical in balancing a budget and addressing the needs of your family. When you take away the responsibility of the employer to provide fair wages you force service employees to gamble each night and hope that they earn enough in their shift to cover their childcare and other household expenses.
A recent study conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United showed widespread sexual harassment within the restaurant industry and found that this harassment was more prevalent in states, like Florida, that pay a sub-minimum wage for service employees. Women, in particular, are often asked by management to alter their appearance and wear more revealing clothing to increase tips and gain customers. The study found that 78% of women surveyed had been subjected to harassing behavior while waiting tables and 30% said they had been touched inappropriately.
Low wages don’t just hurt the employee, they hurt small business. As a co-owner of Armando y Jorge’s Orlandonan Hot Sauce I care about my employees, and I know they are worth more than $4.91 an hour. When you pay an employee minimum wage you tell them, “If I could legally pay you any less, I would.” That is not the message small business owners send to employees they rely on. Florida needs to join the seven other states that have abolished the tipped wage and require employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage before tips.
While Congress debates raising the federal minimum wage we must work to ensure that no worker is paid less than minimum wage.