ROC United celebrates #MeToo successes for restaurant workers

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ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD SERVICE workers experience the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. – Restaurant Opportunities Centers photo

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

In honor of the first annual anniversary of the #MeToo movement, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United is celebrating tremendous success in advancing policy to reduce sexual harassment for restaurants workers.

And ROC is standing in solidarity with workers in other sectors against sexual harassment and assault by co-signing “Dear America,” a letter published by a coalition of organizations concerned about the systemic nature of dangerously inappropriate behavior that affects one-in-four women and one-in-six men at some point in their lives.

The letter, which was scheduled to be released on Oct. 22, acknowledges gains made by the courageous silence-breakers — both those out in the media light and those who’ve borne the less glamorous and publicized brunt of courage — and calls for institutional accountability and change from every sector.

UNVEILING PREVALENCE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT

The #MeToo movement has been instrumental in unveiling the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the lives of women, especially in the workplace.

The phrase “Me Too” was originally coined in 2006 by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in an effort to support sexual violence survivors.

On Oct 15, 2017, it evolved into a widespread movement, when actress Alyssa Milano called for others on Twitter who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply to her tweet with “Me Too,” days after Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was brought to light.

In one day, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, acknowledged their stories of sexual violence using #MeToo.

These developments have led to restaurant workers winning voter support in Washington, D.C. and Michigan, and advancing policy in New York to reduce sexual harassment in their industry over the last year.

ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD SERVICE WORKERS SUFFER HIGHEST RATES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints, women who work in accommodation and food services experience the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry.

This is perpetuated by the sub-minimum tipped wage, which makes workers rely solely on customer tips to make living. For a majority female workforce, this means being forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and supervisors to ensure they have enough income to feed themselves and their families.

LONG-TERM EFFECTS

Sexual harassment and assault are not isolated experiences — they can have long-term ramifications on a survivor’s future.

The preliminary findings of Take Us Off the Menu, a yearlong study by ROC United and partners at UC Berkeley, revealed that a majority of women who previously worked as tipped workers report tolerating harassment later in life.

All women interviewed reported that they had not considered their early work experiences as sexual harassment until asked to reflect on those experiences. This perspective has serious implications for women — they are discouraged from recognizing their formative experiences as harassment, and internalize this norm, thereby creating a high bar for what they consider to be sexual harassment and unacceptable workplace behavior.

ONE FAIR WAGE

One Fair Wage, a critical policy solution eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers, addresses sexual harassment by empowering workers to stand up for themselves without worrying about their paycheck. The seven states that have One Fair Wage, report about half the rate of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry than states with a sub-minimum tipped wage.

The progress that tipped workers in the restaurant industry were able to achieve since the #MeToo movement went viral last year is unprecedented: in January, Governor Cuomo announced that he would move toward One Fair Wage policy in New York; in June, DC voters approved One Fair Wage with 56 percent of the vote; and in September, Michigan legislators adopted the language of the minimum wage initiative and made Michigan the eighth state in the nation to adopt One Fair Wage as law.

While the corporate lobby’s well-funded, aggressive, and dishonest attempts to roll back the progress continue, the popular support to increase wages in the restaurant industry is unstoppable and the change in the federal policy that still pegs the tipped wage at an unimaginable $2.13 per hour is inevitable.

ABOUT ROC

Founded initially after Sept. 11, 2001 as a worker relief center for affected restaurant workers and their families, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) has grown into a national organization with restaurant worker members in New York, California, Boston, Chicago, Michigan, New Orleans, Pennsylvania, Seattle, and Washington, DC. Across the country, the organization has activated 130,000 restaurant workers, employers, and consumers to improve wages and working conditions in the restaurant industry.

Raising the wage and labor standards in the restaurant industry is a matter of economic, social, gender, and racial justice.

ROC United is committed to work with workers, employers, consumers, workers’ rights advocates, and legislators to eliminate unjust labor practices dating back to the slavery era, professionalize the industry, and bring dignity to the work and lives of hardworking men and women in some of the lowest paid occupations in the country. For more information, visit rocunited.org.

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