Service industry workers fight for minimum wage increase

Local News

NEW YORK — With a new administration, and new policy promises, comes new hope work workers clamoring to make a decent wage for their work, especially service industry workers in New York City.

Natasha Van Duser has been a bartender in New York City for nearly a decade; she’s survived off tips doing what she loves.

“I worked in an office and I hated it, my passion is making drinks,” she explained.

But the pandemic not only kept her from work, but also exposed astounding inequities in the hospitality industry that have been allowed to thrive for decades.

“We are in an industry where for years and years and years we’ve only been able to make $2.13 an hour,” she said.

That sub-minimum wage is the standard for tipped workers in 43 states, including New York.

But now a glimmer of hope comes with a new administration, which has vowed to raise the federal minimum wage — something that hasn’t happened since 2009.

Advocates with the organization One Fair Wage held a rally Monday — complete with a mariachi band — outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Midtown office where they made a plea to the Senate Majority Leader to make the Raise the Wage act a priority; it’s already a part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

“It would grant $15 an hour on a federal level to all workers including workers who make a sub-minimum wage like tipped workers,” Gemma Rossi, lead New York organizer for One Fair Wage.

Raising that wage would eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, allowing a workforce predominantly made up of women of color to take home a wage on top of tips they earn.

It’s long overdue for a group advocates say is subjected to volatile work conditions like income instability, high rates of sexual harassment and biases from customers.

As Annette Alcala, a server and bartender in Times Square explains, COVID-19 has just worsened conditions.

“We were put in the front-line position and asking people to wear their masks, and some people did not want to wear the masks and then they took it out on our tips,” Alcala said.

Over the weekend, Biden acknowledged it’s likely the $15 minimum wage will not survive in his final
COVID relief package.

He believes the wage increase will happen in a separate congressional action.

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