Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Provide Tipped Workers with Proper WAGES


By Rev. Garrett J. Andrew

I worked as waiter to support myself in seminary. It was one of the more difficult jobs I have had. The hours are always a bit strange. You are on your feet for long periods of time. There are the customers, ah yes, there are the customers. Some were demanding and some were laid back. But no matter, I worked as hard as I could to ensure I did the best job that I could. It was the customers after all that ensured that I could actually survive as a waiter. Without the tips I would never have been able to make it.

The worst nights were when I left with almost nothing. We had to tip others out and they had done their work well so they deserved all I could give them. But one night I remember I was going to leave with just $6 after working for 5 hours. Knowing that I was not going to be getting any more money for food the next day, I went into the kitchen and found some food that was going to be thrown away. I asked the manager if I could have it for dinner. Granted permission, I found myself eating other people’s leftovers and thanking God that I had even that.

I did this all while working in California, a state that requires all tipped employees to be paid minimum wage. Here in Georgia the minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. It’s with first-hand knowledge of the difficulties that tipped workers endure that I implore us all to support the federal Working for Adequate Gains in Employment Services (WAGES) Act, expected to be reintroduced soon in the new Congress.

Should this proposal be signed into law, it would require that tipped workers minimum salary be increased to no less than $5.50 an hour, over several yearly increments. Fifteen percent of all waiters and waitresses live below the federal poverty level. If this proposal becomes law, it would ensure that people who are able to find employment are treated more fairly by their employers, and not as virtual slaves who have to rely on the generosity of others to ensure their own success.

WAGES would strengthen our own economy by providing a better tax base and more disposable income for those who are in the most need. It would also combat poverty in a community where poverty is one of our fiercest enemies.

Practical reasons aside, I support this measure because it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps you disagree and think that the economy will take a hit, or that unemployment will increase, or something else equally awful. I’m not sure about any of that, but I am sure that we are not treating people right.

We are keeping working people from receiving a fair wage and requiring them to live off the generosity of others. We are making working people beg to survive in a land where we say anyone who works hard enough can make it. Let’s live into the vision of our words and make sure hard-working people have a chance.
Rev. Andrew is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Copyright (C) 2011 by Georgia Forum. 2/11