Making the case FOR fair pay in the service industry and AGAINST factory food

There has long been inequity in the way service industry members are paid. Often the back of the house has made an hourly wage, while front-of-house staff like servers and bartenders have made well below minimum wage and relied on tips.

Texas is one of 23 states where tipped employees make less than $3 an hour. L’Oca d’Oro co-owner Adam Orman recently contributed an op-ed to the Statesman in which he details the history of so-called tip minimum wage employees, a conceit, which he wrote, “started during Reconstruction as a way to ‘pay’ ex-slaves,” and makes the case for a system in which all employees can earn a living wage. (Read the complete op-ed here.)

“Working for tips means you are working for the customer — and employers have little incentive to side with their expendable $2.13-an-hour employees,” L’Oca d’Oro co-owner Adam Orman wrote in a recent op-ed. (Tamir Kalifa AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Orman touches on some of the federal government’s effects on the wage standards, such as when “Bill Clinton signed the ironically titled Minimum Wage Increase Act, separating the tipped minimum from the federal minimum wage,” and makes the plea that Texas join seven other states that have agreed to pay One Fair Wage, “meaning they do not allow a subminimum option.”

In the op-ed, Orman details how his restaurant has worked to make pay more equal and fair.

“At L’Oca d’Oro, we pay everyone in the restaurant at least $8 an hour. We include a 20 percent pretax service charge. All kitchen and waitstaff share in those tips. In order to compensate our whole staff equitably, the service charge has to be mandatory, because another law requires that voluntary tips stay with front-of-house staff.”

Orman, who visited Washington, D.C. in the spring to lobby for One Fair Wage with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United realizes there is no one way for all restaurants to make sure employees can make a living wage, but says that going up against massive lobbying efforts that fight for low wages and unregulated factory farms to keep costs down only makes the plight of ethical restaurants more difficult.

“Low wages and the absurdly low cost of food from factory farms are what makes it possible for most folks to go out to eat at all. But there are hidden costs on both sides of this equation. On the agriculture side, we pay an environmental cost for the groundwater that is polluted by fertilizer and animal waste. We pay with our lives when there are outbreaks of mad cow, listeria and bird flu. On the labor side, we all help support $2.13-an-hour employees who can’t afford health insurance and are on food stamps and welfare.”

We’d like to see the city of Austin create an awards system for restaurants with higher standards. We’d like to see a Central Texas independent restaurant association established to raise the profile of restaurants that are breaking ground in the areas of zero-waste, local sourcing and labor policy.”

Read Orman’s entire op-ed on MyStatesman.com.

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