NY State Attorney General Letitia James and Elected Leaders Unveil Alarming Findings of Wage Theft, Sexual Harassment and Racial Discrimination from the Largest Post-Pandemic Survey of Service Workers

NY State Attorney General Letitia James and Elected Leaders Unveil Alarming Findings of Wage Theft, Sexual Harassment and Racial Discrimination from the Largest Post-Pandemic Survey of Service Workers

Photo Courtesy: One Fair Wage

By One Fair Wage Press | October 27, 2023

The new One Fair Wage report reveals tipped workers in NY are facing alarming levels of wage theft, racial discrimination, and pandemic-induced challenges, with New York City now the last of the 3 largest US cities to maintain a subminimum wage for tipped workers. A majority have reported diminished tips, heightened sexual harassment, and inadequate earnings tied to the prevalent subminimum wage.

Report can be downloaded here

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Recording of Press Conference can be viewed here 

New York, NY —Today, One Fair Wage, alongside NY State Attorney General Letitia James, NY State Senator Robert Jackson, NY State Assembly Members Jessica González-Rojas, Tony Simone, fair wage advocates, union leaders and other elected officials stood together to release the findings of the latest One Fair Wage report, entitled The Last Major Metropolis.” 

The report, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, surveyed over 2000 workers in what is the nation’s largest post-pandemic poll of service workers, revealing profound challenges tipped workers face due to the persistent subminimum wage system, and the fact that New York City is now in the minority of the top 20 US metropolitan areas that maintain a subminimum wage for tipped workers.

The report goes on to highlight rampant wage theft and discriminatory practices in New York’s restaurant industry, an issue that has been a major focus of the Attorney General’s office. 

The following individuals and organizations delivered remarks in support of ending wage theft by employers, advocating for legislation that protects service workers and improves the livelihoods of New York’s restaurant workers:

  • Letitia James, NY State Attorney General
  • NY State Senator Robert Jackson
  • NY State Assembly Members Jessica González-Rojas and Tony Simone
  • Teresa Younger, President of the Ms. Foundation
  • Murad Awawdeh, President of the New York Immigration Coalition
  • Theo Moore, Executive Director, Align NY
  • Jasmine Gripper, Co-Director, NY Working Families Party
  • Morris Pearl, Chair, Patriotic Millionaires
  • Saru Jayaraman, President, One Fair Wage
  • Restaurant workers and employers 

Highlights from the report include findings related to:

Wage Theft: New York’s service workers experience alarming levels of wage theft, with many regularly falling short of earning the full minimum wage, even with tips.

Racial Discrimination: Black workers in states where the subminimum wage exists face greater levels of wage theft and economic disparity, including difficulties accessing unemployment insurance and other services.

Post – Pandemic Challenges: The findings shed light on the unique challenges faced by New York’s tipped workers during and after the pandemic, including diminished tips, increased harassment, and a substantial exodus from the industry.

Sexual Harassment: Nearly half of New York restaurant workers have reported experiencing a significant increase in unwanted sexualized comments from customers. Additionally, 80 percent reported hostile behavior from customers in response to staff enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols.

Restaurant Staffing Crisis: Nationwide, almost half of all tipped workers reported that their tips went down, and harassment levels went up during the pandemic. However, New York stands out as the state that lost the most workers. Even post-pandemic, New York’s staffing crisis continues to be nearly double that of California with over 120,000 workers, constituting 18 percent, not returning to the industry by the end of 2021. This exodus was attributed to factors such as decreased tips and heightened harassment. 

“New Yorkers in the service industry have struggled for far too long with wage theft, harassment, and discrimination while getting paid below the minimum wage. My office has gone after companies that engage in these predatory tactics, and we’ve recovered tens of millions of dollars in stolen wages for workers,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “But we know this is still a pertinent issue that must continue to be addressed swiftly as businesses continue to recover from the pandemic. I want to thank One Fair Wage, Senator Jackson, and Assembly Member Gonzalez-Rojas for their efforts to bring fair wages to all New Yorkers. My office will continue to work tirelessly to defend workers’ rights and ensure fair compensation for the labor they provide.”

New York State Senator Robert Jackson, who championed Senate Bill Senate Bill S5567 to end the subminimum wage reiterated  “It’s time to heed the call of countless service workers, ending subminimum wages and wage theft, while ushering in economic security, equality, and fairness for all New Yorkers. The time has come to close the wage gap and ensure economic security and fairness for all workers, especially those who have borne the brunt of injustice, such as workers of color. One Fair Wage for All isn’t just a policy; it’s the path to a more equitable New York.”

New York State Senator José M. Serrano, “The One Fair Wage Report is the largest survey of service workers conducted post-pandemic and will reveal the economic hardships that service workers continue to endure. As businesses closed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more apparent than ever that we must improve wages and conditions for all workers. It is critical to support our service workers to ensure the health and well-being of our communities.” 

State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, “Tips should be a bonus — not a baseline. I fully support the call for all workers to be paid the full minimum wage with tips on top. We have a responsibility to pass One Fair Wage and the end subminimum wage for restaurant employees. I applaud the countless, hard-working members of the food industry for their activism and the movement they’ve created to make New York a fair wage state.” 

State Senator Cordell Cleare, “As a proud and longstanding co-sponsor of One Fair Wage I submit that this report confirms, in stark detail, what we have known for decades–separate, second-tier wage systems are inherently manipulative, abusive and inequitable and lead to social, personal and economic harm.  We must pass and implement One Fair Wage without further delay!” 

Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon, “Hard-working New Yorkers in the service industry have faced wage theft, discrimination, and harassment while being denied some or all the wages that they have rightly earned. The One Fair Wage Report makes clear that we must end subminimum wages for restaurant workers and improve conditions for all workers. We need a more equitable New York where all employees are paid a fair wage.”

The release of this report, The Last Major Metropolis, highlights that restaurant workers in New York struggled during the worst of COVID and continue to struggle in a disparate manner because of an unjust state economy. New York is now the only one of the top three restaurant destination cities in the nation that has not ended the subminimum wage for these workers. Our state has also seen the highest exodus of workers because of this inequity. In a union town like ours, this goes against our values for labor justice. We must pass my bill, A1710A/S5567A with Senator Robert Jackson at the next possible opportunity and I’m so grateful for Attorney General Tish James’ support and leadership in addressing wage theft and protecting our workers. No worker should ever be left behind in our state so this must be our number one labor issue next session,” said Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas.

Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage, commented on the troubling findings from the report saying, “This survey lays out the stark reality tipped workers in New York are facing. The alarming levels of wage theft, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment have led to the worst staffing crisis the industry has experienced in decades. NYC is the largest of the three U.S. cities where the subminimum wage for tipped workers still exists. It has forced thousands of workers to leave the industry, while making live for servers incredibly unstable and difficult”

During the Press Conference, One Fair Wage drew attention to the findings, while advocating for an end to the tipped minimum wage. Building on the success of One Fair Wage legislation passed in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, NY State Senator Robert Jackson and Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas are leading efforts to enact similar legislation statewide. This legislation would require employers to pay a full minimum wage with tips on top. As the last of the three largest U.S. cities to maintain a subminimum wage for tipped workers, New York City must take bold steps towards a more equitable future.

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