Keene State College students eyes were opened to the hardships of a restaurant worker. Kim Schmidl-Gagne, KSC’s program organizer, hosted the event, Restaurant Opportunities Center: United Tipped Workers on Tuesday, March 31, in the Mabel Brown Room.
Schmidl-Gagne said there were three classes that had already gotten the presentation earlier that day and three different classes that were required to be at the presentation. Even with the classes required in attendance, the small audience was asked by Schmidl-Gagne to move up to the front of the room. She explained, “ROC United is the only national, non-profit dedicated to improving wages and working conditions for the country’s more than ten million restaurant workers. ROC United represents thirteen thousand restaurant workers.” Schmidl-Gagne then introduced ROC United representative Ariel Jacobson. Jacobson began her presentation by showing the audience a YouTube video called, “Behind the Kitchen Door,” which was acted out and created by people from ROC United.
She explained different ways restaurant workers are treated poorly, including sexual harassment, underpayment and lack of certain benefits. ROC United was formed around the same time the attacks of 9/11 occurred. It was created to replace the union of the restaurant that was on the rooftop of Tower One.
ROC United supported the Tower One workers as well as many other restaurant workers throughout New York City after the tragic occurrence, according to Jacobson. She explained how the center began in New York City and grew to a national center in 2008. Jacobson presented several relevant facts: restaurant businesses are the second largest private sector employers; there are approximately 11 million workers, six million of those workers are women; restaurant jobs are the lowest paying jobs and only 20 percent of those jobs are livable wages. The federal sub minimum wage for a tipped restaurant worker is two dollars and 13 cents and that number has not changed since 1991, Jacobson said.
She also explained how, in Europe, tipping is not a professional concept and was only used for slaves, making it a racial tradition. Americans came back from Europe and mimicked the tipping of slaves on waiters and waitresses here, she said.
Two in three tipped workers are women, half of them are older than 30 and one in three of them are parents, according to Jacobson. There is also a large amount of sexual harassment in the restaurant business from customers, managers and other employees, Jacobson said. She said ROC United’s overall strategy is to highlight women’s issues. Jacobson presented a list of many other organizations that back their center and what they are fighting for.
ROC United has many ways people can support them including a mobile app named the ROC National Dining Guide that allows users to view policies of different restaurants across the country to only choose restaurants that treat their workers appropriately, Jacobson said.
She also showed the audience a website called livingofftips.com that allows restaurant workers to share their stories and pictures. KSC Junior Jordann Cardinal attended the event for two of her classes, Ethics and Intercultural Communications.
Cardinal said, “I guess I learned a lot about how restaurant businesses affect the lives of servers, specifically women, and I guess I knew because I worked in a restaurant before. She talked specifically how women have been harassed because that’s the way they can make money. It opened my eyes up to how women are treated and why they’re treated that way.”
She also added, “I didn’t know all of the facts that she was telling us either and I wrote a lot of them down such as the sub minimum wage for tipped workers and that waiters are eligible for food stamps because they are feeding us and they can’t even feed their own families.”
Cardinal said overall Jacobson’s presentation was very helpful.
Savanna Balkun can be contacted at email@example.com