The labor movement has found a new enemy, and this one may surprise you: tipping. Yes, the distinctly American practice that has helped so many people move from the working class to the middle class has become the new bogeyman of the labor left, but tipped workers are fighting back.
Leading the charge against tipping is Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor union front group known for its raucous protests of restaurants and aggressive lobbying for the labor agenda.
While tips are one of the very features that make restaurant jobs attractive to workers, Ms. Jayaraman has no time for anything that suggests pay for performance — a big union no-no. As she recently told the University of California, Berkeley’s alumni magazine: “Ultimately, this system of tipping needs to go.”
She repeated that position recently in Seattle, where the Seattle Times reported Ms. Jayaraman “described tips as institutionalized sexism” and added the “best option, she suggests, is to eliminate tips.”
The startled Seattle Times writer noted Ms. Jayaraman was using “rhetoric making her sound like socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s twin sister.” When even Seattle liberals are shocked by labor movement radicalism, we should take note.
He was right, though: The other person waging war against tips is Ms. Sawant, a leader in the Seattle campaign to raise the minimum wage, who complains: “We don’t want any worker to be beholden to the mood of the customer on any given day.” As businesses are hit with government-mandated wage hikes, one way to keep customers despite the inevitable menu price sticker shock will be to reduce or eliminate tipping.
That would please Ms. Jayaraman, who recently told a Ford Foundation panel: “No portion of anybody’s income should be tips because tips are not wages.” (The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has received more than $2 million from the Ford Foundation to advance the labor agenda.)
Of course, actual restaurant servers know full well that tips are income that allows them to exceed what they would earn with a flat hourly wage, and now they are fighting back.
Businessweek reports servers and bartenders in Seattle have launched a group called Tips Are Wages to educate lawmakers and the public who have been hearing only from union-aligned activists like Ms. Jayaraman and Ms. Sawant. The spokesman for the group, who makes about $45 an hour in tips on weekends, told the Seattle Times “I work for my tips, not my minimum wage.”
That’s the difference in perspective between an actual worker and the faculty lounge activists trying to gut their pay. (The socialist politician, Ms. Sawant, is a part-time professor at a community college; Ms. Jayaraman runs Berkeley’s labor center, and previously taught at City University of New York, where a sign by her desk read, “Capitalism is not healthy for children and other living things”.) These two can almost be forgiven for having no idea how actual workers leverage tips to move up the economic ladder.
Beyond its inherent opposition to merit pay, it’s not hard to see why big labor would prefer servers receive a flat wage. If Ms. Jayaraman succeeds in her goal, as she described it to National Public Radio, to “organize the 99 percent of the [restaurant] industry that doesn’t have a union,” labor would find it far preferable to have those new union members face seamless payroll deduction of union dues rather than chase them down every month to grab a portion of their tips for the union till.
Restaurants, of course, are free to eliminate tipping, but it has been so rare that when it occurs, it makes national headlines. The current system works for restaurants, servers and customers — everyone except would-be labor bosses.
When Karl Marx exhorted workers of the world to unite, little did he expect it would be to defeat a socialist politician and the leader of a labor-linked “worker center.” Through Wages Are Tips and other efforts, Seattle workers are reminding us that like so many other campaigns, the union war on tips is designed to promote the interests of labor leaders, not the interests of workers.
Mike Paranzino is communications director for ROC Exposed.