Big tips make headlines. Consider the almost $500 gratuity on a $6 bill received by a Steak ‘n’ Shake waitress in Indianapolis, or the $1,000 that host Ellen DeGeneres gave Edgar Martiroysan, the pizza delivery guy at the Academy awards. But reality is far less lucrative for most restaurant workers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet in a notoriously low-paid industry.
“The largest workforce in America can’t put food on the table—except when they go to work,” says Saru Jayaraman, who advocates for change both as an advocate and as a researcher at UC Berkeley.
Jayaraman believes 2014 may be the year that these employees, some 10 million strong across the United States, get the pay raise they’ve been waiting for—for 23 years. “There’s so much anger right now towards big corporate groups,” she notes, citing a new commitment to minimum-wage workers across the country and in Congress. “There’s incredible momentum right now for our work.”
Meanwhile, the wage debate is also going local. In California alone, campaigns are under way in Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland to join San Francisco and San Jose in setting a minimum wage higher than state law. Similiar initiatives are in the works in Los Angeles and San Diego and, indeed, in cities and states around the country. Trendsetter San Francisco’s proposal would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
For localites: Jayaraman is featured on a panel discussion tonight, The Hands That Feed Us: Labor in the Food System, as a part of Cal’s Edible Education program.