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Report: Women in Food Service "Tipped Over the Edge"

February 15, 2012

DENVER - The restaurant industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, employing more than 10 million workers nationwide. A new report, however, confirms that growth doesn't include high-paying jobs with benefits.

Called "Tipped Over the Edge," the report cites the federal sub-minimum wage as part of the problem. Employers can pay tipped workers as little as $2.13 an hour because it's assumed the difference is made up by their tips.

Sierra Trujillo has worked in restaurants since she was a teen-ager, including jobs paying the sub-minimum wage, which in Colorado is higher than the federal minimum.

"You never know. I mean, business could be slow for a month. Times like January, February; after the holidays, before the tax season, the restaurants aren't as busy and you're not making that kind of money."

The report found the typical full-time, year-round female restaurant worker makes 79 percent of her male counterpart's pay. It recommends raising the sub-minimum wage to slightly more than $5 an hour. The National Restaurant Association has long opposed that idea, contending that tipped workers can average $15 an hour and that business owners can't afford to pay a higher sub-minimum wage.

The report says 90 percent of restaurant workers lack health-care benefits and don't receive paid sick days. Trujillo says that's her situation: When she's sick, she has to make the choice between getting paid and getting well, even as recently as last week.

"It's one of those things, I wasn't working last week and I had to miss out on days and pay because of being sick. And that sucks."

The report recommends a national standard which allows workers to earn seven to nine job-protected paid sick days each year - days which could be used to recover from routine illness, access preventive care or provide care for a sick family member.

The report - compiled by Restaurant Opportunities Center United and a coalition of a dozen groups including 9 to 5 and the National Association of Working Women - is online at rocunited.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO