Serving up change: Labor Under-Secretary steps into Chelsea servers’ shoes for fair pay initiative

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Labor Undersecretary Julie Su and others spent Monday morning waiting tables in hopes of promoting fair wages across the restaurant industry.

Stepping into the shoes of Baodega servers at 7 West 20th St. in Chelsea, officials advocated for staff across the city to be paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour with tips while waiting for those whose trades is to wait for others.

Members of One Fair Wage – an organization working to end all sub-minimum wages – took their seats and prepared for their orders to be taken. Maloney and Su dashed around the tables, writing down the names of drinks and breakfasts. Then the small band of rookie waiters filled coffee cups and juggled trays of sandwiches before dropping off the dishes.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su picks up the orders. Photo of Dean Moses
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney lays down the orders. Photo of Dean Moses

It wasn’t just an effort to raise awareness of sub-minimum pay, but also to show the struggles of being a waiter in the Big Apple. According to One Fair Wage, during the COVID-19 pandemic, waitresses saw an increase in sexual abuse and were repeatedly asked to lower their masks so their appearance would be judged for tips.

With individuals such as the Members of Congress waiting tables, it is hoped that more attention can be drawn to their cause.

“Change doesn’t come easily, but it does come if you never give up,” Maloney said after putting on an apron. “Not only are the majority of workers women, but they are underpaid, undervalued and often face constant sexual harassment. Anyone who works eight hours should be paid minimum wage.

Su agreed, also stating that helping fund a worker also helps fund the business.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su brings the tea. Photo of Dean Moses
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney fills the cafe. Photo of Dean Moses

“We have seen employers across the country respond to this moment realizing that worker wellbeing is critical to the wellbeing of their business. That there is a deep interconnection between how workers are treated and a company’s profitability and sustainability,” Su said.

Additionally, the tour highlighted the success of the pandemic-created “High Road Kitchens” scheme, which are restaurants that receive government subsidies as they pledge to pay minimum wage and tip staff. One Fair Wage hopes this showcase will bring the change needed to end below-minimum wage for tipped workers and boost the food industry as the city emerges from the pandemic.

It was just one stop on a larger tour involving the Secretary of Labor. She is also making stops in Queens and Brooklyn where she will serve more diners.

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