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Ending Subminimum Wage: Saru Jayaraman

“This is the beginning of the end of subminimum wages in the United States.”

Saru Jayaraman is the President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Her new book is One Fair Wage: Ending Sub Minimum Pay in America. We discuss the history of the subminimum wage in America, the inherent unfairness of the practice, and the need to end it once and for all.

Saru Jayaraman is the President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Her new book is One Fair Wage: Ending Sub Minimum Pay in America. We discuss the history of the subminimum wage in America, the inherent unfairness of the practice, and the need to end it once and for all.

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The Legacy of the Subminimum Wage

The devaluation of Black lives and women’s work is at the heart of the subminimum wage. Until the 1850s, restaurant workers were white men who were unionized and were tipped on top of a living wage. But business owners started hiring women and black people for free, making them rely on tips to make their living. A century and a half later, and the wage has increased to only $2.13.

Tipped Work in the Pandemic 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how precarious tipped work can be. Workers who earned tips on top of a subminimum wage often did not qualify for unemployment benefits because their tips were never reported. The subminimum wage is dangerous, but we have an opportunity to get rid of it by advocating for the Raise the Wage Act, supporting restaurants that pay their workers a livable wage, and demanding the same from businesses that don’t.

Who Gets Paid Subminimum Wages?

Restaurant workers make up a big piece of the battle against subminimum wage, but they’re not alone. In terms of tipped work, we have to consider nail salon workers, car wash workers, parking attendants, and more. But subminimum wages don’t just take advantage of tipped workers, they affect gig workers, incarcerated workers, youth workers, and people with disabilities.

FIND OUT MORE:

Saru Jayaraman is the President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Saru has spent the last 20 years organizing and advocating for raising wages and working conditions for restaurant and other service workers. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She was listed in CNN’s “Top 10 Visionary Women” and recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House in 2014, a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2015, and the San Francisco Chronicle ‘Visionary of the Year’ in 2019.

Saru has written several books, including Behind the Kitchen Door (Cornell University Press, 2013), a national bestseller, Bite Back: People Taking on Corporate Food and Winning (UC Press, 2020), and most recently One Fair Wage: Ending Sub Minimum Pay in America (The New Press, 2021).

You can learn more at onefairwage.com.

You can follow Saru on Twitter at @SaruJayaraman

Saru Jayaraman Transcript

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