Foodservice Isn't Feeding Us

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Serving wage is no wage, minimum wage is starvation wage.

Submitted: December 10, 2016

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Submitted: December 10, 2016



"At-Will" is a clause found on most lower income (often service industry) new-hire papers. It states that the relationship between the employee and employer can be terminated at any time without notice for any reason or no reason. At its basis, it puts power in the hands of the employer in the guise of equality in an employment relationship. There is no stiff employment contract, so the employee ultimately has an unstable source of income and is passive aggressively placed in a position where they are expected to perform whatever task whenever asked by authority, including working while ill, working outside the boundaries of their job description, working in unsafe or hostile conditions, and even further, are insidiously forced to be silent about all of this for fear of losing their position. 

At it's root, the clause is a diabolical but perfectly legal scam keeping good employees competing for a job with lower pay whose provider demands they consistently produce more, work harder, and complain less, or they'll be quickly replaced.

At a $2.13 an hour standard server wage, there is a loophole idea that a company is only responsible for paying the difference up to minimum wage; and even at that point if the employee earns more than minimum wage from tips provided by customers then the company isn't responsible at all for their pay.  Especially when a percentage of the tips servers earn are then taken by the company and distributed even further so it is even less responsible for directly paying employees for their work. 

The customer is not responsible for paying employees as well as paying for services or goods, the company is. If a server is consistently getting a paycheck of $0 from the company they're working for, they are not being paid. The problem is that companies know this, and profit off of the fact that most servers are younger, in-debt college students or young people without degrees who can't easily find "skilled" trade work, and can't easily be motivated to organize. 

Labor is consistently what restaurants try to cut, which is why they over-hire servers under the at-will clause, who are then expected to do any and all tasks, including anything that normally has its own pay-grade. Simultaneously foodservice has a habit of under-hiring in nearly every other area. Forcing servers to pick up the slack across a restaurant that has too many of them competing for their income (tables mean tips), and too few of anyone else to actually run properly.

Labor laws are human rights issues. You can't enforce your dignity as an employee or even your boundaries and rights as a human being if you fear you'll be replaced at any moment for any reason, and left with no income and a reference as an insubordinate or willful employee. It can be inferred that this is partly the reason foodservice is such an especially hostile industry to women, differently abled, and people of color. If a female employee is sexually harassed by a superior who laughs at any mention of an HR department, and they could lose their job for complaining about it, there is something wrong with the way their workplace is allowed to operate. If an employee of color is undocumented and finds work at a restaurant that uses this status to keep them in line, there is something wrong with the way their workplace is allowed to operate.


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