Today’s News and Commentary — June 11, 2018
Next week, D.C. residents will vote on Initiative 77, a ballot initiative to raise the tipped minimum wage to match D.C.’s standard minimum wage of $12.50 an hour (rising to $15 by 2020). Most U.S. states maintain a sub-minimum base wage for tipped workers like waiters, bartender, and manicurists — in D.C., the tipped minimum wage is merely $3.33 an hour. D.C. now has the widest gap between tipped and non-tipped workers in the country. If tipped workers’ base wages and tips combine to less than the overall minimum wage, employers are supposed to supplement them. But in practice, this system is difficult to enforce; tipped wage violations are common. As the vote approaches, opponents argue that Initiative 77 would lead to prices increasing or tipped workers’ total earnings declining. Supporters argue that in the eight states that have equalized the tipped and standard minimum wage, tipped workers have higher average earnings. Supporters of Initiative 77 also emphasize that customers tip black workers less than white workers for the same quality of service and that a low tipped minimum wage leaves workers vulnerable to sexual harassment. The vote is June 19th.
Organized workers at Amazon’s Twin Cities warehouses won important religious accommodations for Muslim workers this week. Amazon employs more than 1,000 Muslim immigrants at its Minnesota location and, according to Bloomberg News. As Ramadan (a holy month of fasting for Muslims) approached, workers presented Amazon with a series of demands, including on-site prayer rooms and adjusted workloads during fast days. After some employees circulated flyers calling on co-workers to wear blue in protest, the branch’s management announced that they would follow key requests. “That showed us that we are very powerful,” Aaisha Jama, an Amazon worker, told Bloomberg.
Berkeley city workers voted by an overwhelming 99% majority to authorize a strike as contract negotiations with the city continue. Berkeley’s contract with maintenance and clerical employees, including sanitation workers and mechanics, expires on June 16. Union representatives are stressing workplace safety protections after a sanitation worker died in 2016 due to a truck brake failure.
Four feminist U.S. Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patty Murray, Dianne Feinstein, and Elizabeth Warren, are calling on the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) to measure the economic costs of sexual harassment, from lost productive to increased turnover as harassment victims leave workplaces to escape abuse. According to Vox, women who are harassed are 6.5 times more likely to leave a job than those who are not, and harassment obviously harms workers’ psychological well-being. As the Senators point out in their letter to the GAO, these costs probably hurt companies’ bottom-lines — and they certainly exacerbate gender imbalances in the workplace writ large.