Statement from Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, on the State of the Union and raising wages for tipped workers:

“We applaud President Obama’s announcement that he will sign an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. But American workers everywhere are in dire need of sweeping and decisive action. This presidential leadership must be mirrored in Congress by passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would immediately lift millions of hard-working Americans from poverty, and, for the first time in 23 years, raise the tipped minimum from $2.13 to 70% of the regular minimum wage.

“The real minimum wage in this country is $2.13, and has been since 1991. The National Restaurant Association has been writing itself exemptions from fair wages for decades, subjecting millions of workers to poverty. Tipped workers are 70% women, including many mothers who face huge challenges in putting food on their own tables. The restaurant workforce uses food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the US workforce and is three-times as likely to live in poverty. Meanwhile, the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors to grow during the recession. The corporate restaurant industry can absolutely afford to pay its workers better, but won’t do so voluntarily. Tipped workers are counting on their government to hold the private sector accountable to livable wages.”