How New York Governor Kathy Hochul Could Impact Restaurant Employees

After the fall of former Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s restaurant industry has a new leader directing policy for operators and workers in the pandemic: Governor Kathy Hochul.

Hochul, who was sworn in in a private ceremony on Tuesday, is the Empire State’s first female governor and previously worked as a waitress – an attribute One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman hopes will make her sympathetic to the ‘call from the group to end the sub-minimum. salary in the state.

By paying restaurant staff a minimum wage of $ 15 plus tips, Hochul would facilitate both union struggles for New York restaurants and sexual harassment for female tip workers, Jayaraman says.

“So many women during the pandemic told us that they were repeatedly asked, ‘Take off your mask so I can see how cute you are before I decide how much to tip you,'” Jayaraman said. “And so the women are like, ‘Wait a second, you want me and my family to expose myself and my family to the virus for minimum wage, just for the chance to get that tip?’ It is no longer worth it. “

Restaurant wages are already rising in an effort to attract and retain restaurant workers, but not all trade associations believe the restaurant industry is currently strong enough to absorb the costs associated with rising restaurant workers. wages.

Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, wrote in a recent guest post for Restaurant Dive that the Raise the Wage Act – which would eliminate tip credit and raise the US minimum wage to $ 15 over four years – is “the wrong proposition at the wrong time”, for example. Kennedy says such a move would destabilize restaurants “wondering if they can survive another month” and hurt restaurant workers “who rely on the local minimum wage and their tips to weather the economic storm.”

But Jayaraman is adamant wage increases are necessary for the longevity of the industry. She also believes that as governor on the heels of a sexual harassment crisis, Hochul must tackle the sexual harassment that permeates tip work, Jayaraman said.

Cuomo’s sexual harassment transgressions weren’t just the individuals he harassed, but the 400,000 women he left to harass the restaurant industry by committing [to end the subminimum wage] and then never do it, “she said.”[Hochul] must [end the subminum wage] to fight sexual harassment, to clean up what Cuomo didn’t do, and to get this industry back to work. There is no other way. “

Jayaraman shared her vision for how she hopes Hochul will shape the restaurant worker protection policy in a recent interview with Restaurant Dive.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

RESTAURANT DIVE: How do you think Governor Kathy Hochul might impact restaurant employee politics in New York City?

SARU JAYARAMAN: We are working to end pay below minimum wage for tipping workers and allow tip sharing with office workers. And we’ve not only had bills on this topic for many years, but former Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to do so at the end of 2017, and never has. And finally at the end of 2019, he did it for all the other tip workers but not for the catering.

What has changed so much is that now we have literally hundreds and hundreds of New York restaurant owners joining us in this call for this policy because, frankly, a lot of them didn’t. could not fully reopen and find staff.

Our data showed that eight in 10 workers say they are considering leaving, and eight in 10 say the only thing that would keep them or come back to the industry is a decent full salary plus tips. And so we really hope that Governor Hochul can do what Cuomo said he was going to do and did for other tip workers, which is use his executive authority to end the lower pay for workers. tip and allow the sharing of tips with the back of the house.

We also proposed that it could provide additional supports – either tax credits or grants – to restaurants who want to reach full pay faster. You perform executive actions that stagger the increase in wages, but you can also provide grants to restaurants that pledge to go up to $ 15 an hour immediately.

I was just looking at a quote from one of our restaurateurs, who said we desperately need the government to do this as a policy to create a level playing field because if everyone has to raise wages individually it creates difficulties. for small businesses. Together is much better.

We also need it because only the government has the platform to literally say to hundreds of thousands of workers in New York City, “Come back. It is worth working in restaurants. It’s a permanent change, not a temporary signing bonus. worth working in restaurants. “

This transition to a $ 15 salary would be particularly difficult without increased federal support for the restaurant industry.

That’s right. If small businesses generally raise wages because they have to, they also need Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, and Applebee’s.

Some employers have told us, “I have increased wages and I still cannot get the workers back. We tell them why, because we hear from workers, meaning that workers last year really uprooted their lives to say, “Okay, I’m done. I can’t make it work in this industry anymore. low, wages are too low. Sexual harassment and hostility are on the rise. And it’s super dangerous. “

A lot of people have gone back to school or gone to another industry. And if you try to get all these people to uproot their lives again and do an about-face, if it’s just an employer saying, “I’m going to raise my wages,” it’s hard to believe that is. permanent, especially with all the talk about temporary signing bonuses.

How can these workers believe that this is not just a change in pay now, and that operators will come back to less pay later? But if the government says, “No, the real legal wage changes,” that is enough guarantee for workers to return to this industry.

We have to make it worthwhile to work in restaurants again – or maybe for the first time, frankly. I think that huge bulb went out for so many workers in the last year that advice is unreliable. And what comes with tips is too much to ask.

Do you have any idea what an ideal combination of policies would look like, such as removing the minimum wage and giving subsidies to restaurants that make this transition earlier than expected?

One Fair Wage actually created this program during the pandemic with Governor Gavin Newsom in California, Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who later became Secretary of Labor. , and Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago. In five states, for example, we have raised public and private funds to provide grants to restaurants that commit to moving to a minimum wage of $ 15 with additional tips and [commit to] Go through our Racial and Gender Equity training program.

We did it with Mayor de Blasio and it ended up with a nearly $ 3.5 million program in New York City. And we’ve given between 70 and 100 restaurants in New York City grants to do this.

And so what we are proposing for Hochul first is to enact an executive decree that would gradually extend the minimum wage for tip workers in the restaurant industry to the full minimum wage over many years. Second, for restaurants that want to go there now or feel they have to get workers back to work, it could provide a subsidy.

And that funding would be tied to restaurants immediately committing to a higher salary and following this equity training program. There’s a lot of precedent for this – we’ve done it at the city level, we’ve done it with other governors. We certainly need the law to change and we can add support.

We passed a bill in Congress in 2018 that says if you pay the minimum wage in full, you can share the tips with the back of the house. This is how it is done in California and in the seven states that already pay a fair wage. But New York and Massachusetts are the only two states where, even if you pay minimum wage, you can’t share tips with the back of the house.

We therefore ask Hochul to pass a decree that would also allow the sharing of tips with office workers.

Is One Fair Wage optimistic that Hochul will embrace these changes?

We are very optimistic. We feel like she gets it as a former tip worker and has a real opportunity to do things that will work for both employers and workers because there isn’t everything. simply no way to move forward otherwise.

I think we have two choices as an industry. We can either increase wages or reduce the industry. The workers will not come back as much as they used to.

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