By RACHEL DEHN
(April 28, 2015) — Although Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law officially took effect on April 1, companies in the city have three to seven years to meet the $15 per hour minimum depending on their size and classification.
The Seattle-based restaurant company Ivar’s isn’t waiting.
The company announced that the increase would be implemented immediately for their full-service employees. Ivar’s is encouraging customers not to tip, and instead has increased menu prices by 21%, calling this a “commission structure” that will be shared by all hourly employees so “hosts and hostesses, bussers, cooks, dishwashers, servers and bartenders all share in the success of the restaurant every day.”
Ivar’s new wage structure for its full-service locations could set a powerful example for Seattle-area restaurants and beyond that meeting a $15 minimum wage is not only possible, but allows all employees to thrive and companies to remain profitable. An added commission on top of a livable minimum wage could help mitigate the problematic acts of prejudice and sexism that, at times, play out through the act of tipping.
A recent national survey shows that 90 percent of female tipped workers report experiencing sexual harassment on the job. Tipped workers are almost twice as likely to report experiencing sexual harassment in states with a $2.13 tipped minimum wage — the federal rate for tipped workers since 1991. And the EEOC has targeted the restaurant industry as the single-largest source of sexual harassment charges with a rate five-times higher than any other industry, demonstrating an undeniable correlation between being dependent on tips and having to endure harassment.
Across the country, tipped workers struggle to make ends meet, deal with unpredictable pay, and usually find that the bulk of their take-home pay is tips. In fact, nationally, tipped workers — whom are overwhelmingly women — use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the workforce and are three-times as likely to live in poverty.
However, Washington is one of seven states — all with thriving restaurant industries — that have already eliminated the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center supports all efforts to ensure restaurant workers’ receive a living wage directly paid to them by their employers, and through the One Fair Wage campaign is working to eliminate the unfair two-tiered wage system in favor of one fair wage.
As Ivar’s will hopefully demonstrate over time, there are a variety of ways to ensure that restaurant workers are paid fairly and share more equally in a restaurant’s success. We hope the company shows similar leadership in accelerating the wage requirements at its fast-casual locations by enacting a starting wage of $15 an hour.
Rachel Dehn is Lead Organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Seattle (ROC-Seattle) is a member-led restaurant workers’ center founded in 2015 and an affiliate of ROC United. For more information, email her or call 206-617-5626.