Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

People Working for Tips in Restaurants Could Use a Raise

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

People Working for Tips in Restaurants Could Use a Raise

Article excerpt

Estelle Becker has been waiting tables in Pittsburgh for nearly 40 years, and in that time her minimum wage as a tipped employee hasn't moved much.

She remembers starting at $1.05 an hour in her father's Downtown restaurant. Now she works at a very nice place where expense accounts help embolden the patrons into ordering thick steaks -- and Ms. Becker is paid $2.83 an hour before tips.

That state minimum hasn't changed in 23 years. She and tens of thousands like her live almost entirely off tips. She has no sick days. She lost her health care a few months ago. Some days there isn't enough work and she's sent home, blowing what she just paid to park. Retirement is a fantasy.

"I wonder or stress every week for 40 years, 'Will I make enough this week to pay what bills are coming in?' "

I met Ms. Becker late last month after she spoke at the noontime Equal Pay Rally on Market Square. It was take-your-child-to-work day and my 14-year-old daughter and her friend were cheering her loudly.

For a woman who had no public speaking experience, Ms. Becker could rouse a crowd. Maybe it's because all the politicians who spoke before her have good pay and benefits. For her, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1317 to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 an hour, and to repeal the tipped-employee exclusion, is no abstract question. It's life.

Not that I'd bet a night's tip money on its passage.

Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly and this bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Daylin Leach, the self-described "Liberal Lion" from Montgomery County, is a Democrat running for Congress. It doesn't hurt Mr. Leach to be seen fighting to raise the minimum wage, but Republicans will likely block this the way their peers in the U.S. Senate blocked a bid to raise the national minimum from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years.

Both parties pacify their bases with these standoffs. Politicians get something out of the gridlock while low-wage workers reap a whole lot of nothing.

The rally in Market Square was focused on the inequality in pay between men and women, but that fits seamlessly with the tipped- employee issue. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and tipped employees in Pennsylvania are women, according to Wendy Voet, executive director of the advocacy group Women's Way. …

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