What do you say we return waiters and waitresses, pay wise, to 1994? Sound hunky-dory to you? It does to Republicans, because that’s the idea of HB 258, which would reduce the base pay of servers from $3.52 an hour to what it was fifteen years ago, $2.13. On average, servers in Missouri make the munificent sum of $16,000 annually. I mean. What do. they. need. with so much money?
Our (n)ever-generous Republican lawmakers will try to justify fleecing restaurant workers by saying that servers are guaranteed the minimum wage of $7.05 in any case. If their tips and their base pay don’t come to that much per hour, the restaurant has to make up the difference. But hold on now: if the base pay is only $2.13, then more of that $7.05 is being supplied by the servers. Republicans are consistent in this much: they can always find a way to make the little guy bear the economic brunt.
Still, you might say, a waitress will get the $7.05. Yes, but part of the lure of wearing out all that shoe leather is the possibility that she will earn more than the minimum wage. If she just wanted to make what any checker at a big box does, she could hire on at Lowe’s and save herself a lot of mileage every shift.
Dana Dreher, a social work major at Washington University who is working her way through school as a waitress, has gotten involved in the Jobs for Justice campaign to resist HB 258. Her attitude is that Missouri voters approved a hike in the minimum wage by an astonishing 76 percent in 2006, and this attempt to screw those that wait tables contravenes the will of the voters.
She found herself testifying at a committee hearing about the bill. Lots of restaurant owners testified, but this one twenty-something student was the only person speaking for the 53,000 servers in the state. It was an intimidating–and infuriating–experience. One restaurateur, for example, claimed that servers often make $20 an hour. Right. For every one of those jobs, thought Dreher, there are ten Denny’s and IHOP jobs. Then came Dana’s turn to speak:
Once the legislature’s spring break (3/16-3/23) is over, the bill is expected to fly through the House, so Jobs with Justice is planning a Lobby Day on the issue for March 24th. The organization hopes it can rally as many as twenty servers to get to Jeff City on that day to talk to persuadable Republicans and to show appreciation for the Democrats who’ve supported the JwJ campaign.
Twenty may not sound like an impressive showing, but consider that most servers in the state have no idea this legislation is pending. Of those who do, think how difficult it is for them to get the time off work. But at least the ones who do go have plans to make a splash. Right now, they’re leaning toward wearing their work uniforms and perhaps even carrying the literature for handouts on serving trays.
The uphill battle of fighting Republican legislators with no respect for working people seems like less of a slog considering that Jay Nixon is sitting on the hilltop. With a veto pen. But the servers aren’t assuming they can sit at the bottom of the incline and wait for the governor to handle the problem. They’re doing all the legwork they can.
Here’s a simple action you could take to help them: Print a flyer that explains the issue. As I said, most servers aren’t aware of what’s going on. Educate them. Next time you eat at Appleby’s, give your waitress one–or several, to hand to her co-workers. Here’s another simple action: let the Save Our Tips campaign send your representative an e-mail on your behalf.
This posting is the second in a regular series about activists that I’m writing with the assistance of the St. Louis Activist Hub. The first posting is here.
So often most people (including myself) focus on the politicians on the top without thinking of people like Dana who are involved without getting much credit for their hard work.
And I’d much rather that when we think of individuals involved in the process, we think about Dana rather an industry lobbyist picking up the tab at the bar or restaurant.
In St. Louis, the Student Labor Action Project is organizing a Save Our Tips pub crawl for next week. I’ll try to keep people updated about the specifics. If anyone from another part of the state would like to do something similar, please let me know.