This piece was contributed by reader and Southern New Hampshire DSA member Tim Denby. Tim attended Pine & Roses’ January 22nd workshop where we asked attendees to write editorial pieces. If you live in northern New England and would like to submit a piece that involves local working-class news or an editorial, you can do so by sending a draft to email@example.com
“What did you just do?” I froze with my hand in the tip jar at my neighborhood restaurant. My glasses were thoroughly fogged thanks to the crappy disposable mask I was wearing, but I could see death in the eyes of the waitress who had just turned around the corner with my family’s packaged food order. I may have been imagining it but the silver ring in her septum piercing seemed to twinkle malevolently, a harbinger of my imminent doom.
“Um, I put a twenty in and …”—I fanned the bills in my hand —”I took ten back. Is that okay?”
She had clearly already resigned herself to a night of cleaning my blood off of the establishment’s floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows and had difficulty pulling back from the killing stroke. “Oh … sorry. I didn’t see the twenty there.” I slowly began to breathe again.
My life could have ended one stormy night in June 2021, but DEFCON-1 is a reasonable and rational reaction from a restaurant industry worker in that situation. They are already viciously exploited thanks to substandard wages allegedly supplemented with tipping. But, according to Mark Mentzer in the International Journal of Management, “American writers [have] argued that tipping was incompatible with American equalitarianism.” And, as pointed out by the UC Berkeley Food Research Center, the COVID-19 pandemic has gravely worsened their position:
After facing severe challenges in accessing unemployment insurance at relatively higher rates than other workers, many workers felt compelled to return to work in restaurants before they felt safe doing so. When they returned, they were asked to do more for less. Most workers—87% of all workers—reported that their tips have decreased since the pandemic and nearly 70% of workers report their tips have decreased by half or more.
In addition to reduced work hours, reduced tips, increased risk of job loss, lethal health risks in the workplace, and many other hardships, the last couple of years—and the iniquity of capital— have brought increased incidents of wage theft to restaurant industry workers as well, as the same UC Berkeley report explains:
Nearly half of all workers (46%) and over half (51%) of women reported their employer failed to compensate them for “time and a half’’ when working overtime or beyond 40 hours a week. Women were also more likely to report receiving less in tips based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Talk in the popular press of inflation and the usual accompanying scapegoat of a “wage-price spiral” has grown from murmurs to a dull roar by early 2022, foreshadowing an intentional diminution of the buying power wielded by the income an average person does manage to bring home, as well as the buying power of savings. As Hadas Thier said in a Truthout article near the end of last year, “Inflation is a question of class politics—which class gains at whose expense—rather than technical monetary policies.”
The AFL-CIO cites the Center for Economic and Policy Research that, had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation and increases in worker productivity since 1968, by 2020 it would have reached $24 per hour—for a single full-year, full-time worker $48,000 yearly; for a couple, nearly $100k. Instead, across more than half a century our nation has pursued policies of redistributing wealth to the pockets of the upper classes.
So let’s raise wages all around: a $25 per hour minimum seems appropriate now that the luminaries of industry, finance, and economics have made their opening bid in the form of price increases for essential goods and services, making the former “radical” request of $15 per hour an unlivable wage. Waste no time, before more people get caught with their hand in the tip jar.