“Take Your Mask Off so I Know How Much to Tip You”

Service Workers’ Experience of Health & Harassment During COVID-19

COVID-19’s devastation of the service sector has been well documented, including the closure of thousands of independently-owned restaurants and the unemployment, underemployment, and impoverishment of millions of food service workers nationwide. Destitution among workers can be traced in large part to the subminimum wage for tipped workers, still $2.13 an hour at the Federal level. A legacy of slavery, the subminimum wage for tipped workers persists in 43 states, and has subjected a largely female workforce of servers, bartenders, bussers, and others to economic instability and the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry for decades. With the pandemic, 60% of tipped workers reported being unable to access unemployment insurance because their subminimum wage was too low to meet minimum state thresholds for benefits qualification.


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