– ROC Urges Congress to pass needed bill to raise stagnant wages & provide paid sick days to nation’s 10 million restaurant workers-

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and our 9,000 restaurant worker members across the country applaud Senator Harkin (D-IA) for his leadership in introducing the Rebuild America Act. This comprehensive bill would transform the restaurant industry, notorious for its poverty wages and non-existent benefits, by raising industry standards after decades of stagnation, restoring fairness to America’s restaurants, and creating a modern restaurant workforce ready to grow the US economy in the 21st century.

The Rebuild America Act would raise outdated restaurant industry standards, impacting over 10 million restaurant workers by:

  • – Increasing the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers of $2.13 to $6.85/hour over five years – long overdue after being frozen at $2.13 since 1991. Restaurant servers – of whom 71 percent are female – are almost three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line than the general workforce and nearly twice as likely to need food stamps as the general population.
  • – Increasing the poverty level federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $9.80 by 2014
  • – Allowing workers to earn paid sick leave, a measure especially important in America’s restaurants where consumer health is jeopardized by the 87% of restaurant workers that do not have earned paid sick days

Saru Jayaraman, Co-Director of ROC United, commended Senator Harkin, saying, “After over 20 years of stagnation, the Rebuild America Act will restore fairness and balance to America’s restaurants. While the restaurant industry projects to make record profit in 2012 of $630 billion, powerful corporate restaurants and their lobbyists continue to fight long overdue increases to the subminimum tipped wage and minimum wage, and measures to protect the public health, such as earned paid sick days. Senator Harkin’s legislation will finally raise industry standards and bring forward the 10 million restaurant workers that have been left behind for decades.”

A particularly egregious example of how restaurant industry has stagnated is the subminimum tipped wage. Due to the power of the National Restaurant Association and corporate restaurant chains such as Darden Restaurants, owners of Capital Grille, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden, the subminimum wage for tipped workers has been frozen at $2.13 for the past 21 years – leaving behind millions of restaurant workers and their families. After over two decades of being forgotten, Rebuild America Act would finally give hard working servers, bussers, and food runners the long overdue raise they deserve.

Policy Director for ROC United, Rion Dennis, urged Congress to pass the Rebuild America Act, stating, “What the US economy needs right now are reforms that will refocus our investments and energy on working people – if we want to modernize the US economy and move forward, we have to modernize our workforce, and that means raising the out-of-date and regressive working standards we see in the restaurant industry. ”