New Poll: Most New Yorkers Want Governor Cuomo to Increase Tipped Workers’ Wages Immediately

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With nearly 80% of New York state restaurant employees out of work, the Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress today released new polling showing bipartisan support among New Yorkers for immediately increasing wages for tipped workers. Right now, New York requires a $15 minimum wage and at least $10 for tipped workers. That’s better than most states and the federal government, but it’s not enough, because even here in New York, some tipped workers are left behind. 

While the state will eliminate the subminimum wage for some 70,000 tipped workers by the end of 2020, restaurant workers—who number between 250,000 and 320,000, a huge proportion of tipped workers in the state—are specifically excluded from that policy. That must change. If we want to emerge from the coronavirus crisis a more fair and just society, with an economy that aims to work for everyone, we must adopt policies that treat workers equitably. Fortunately, New Yorkers believe the Governor should move to protect these workers and the economy—and that these changes should be extended to the national level. The new polling finds more than 87% of likely voters in New York, including 83% of Republicans, support changing federal wage laws to require that the minimum wage be applied to all workers, regardless of whether they are in an industry where tips are customary.

“Today there is more public support for One Fair Wage than ever before,” said Saru Jayaraman, Director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on our service workers—the servers, cooks, bartenders and other workers bearing the brunt of this economic crisis —and now the public is demanding action to create a more fair economy for everyone.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Seventy-three percent, including 53% of Republicans, support the government paying 100% of lost wages for workers who lost their jobs, or face reduced work hours, due to the coronavirus. 
  • Seventy-four percent, including 65% of Republicans, support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and automatically adjusting the amount each year to account for national cost of living increases. 

Although Governor Cuomo has called for an increase in the minimum wage paid to New York’s tipped workers, his plan will unfold in stages and is limited to certain sectors. The plan won’t be in full effect until the end of the year. For now, it affects only nail salon workers, hairdressers, aestheticians, car wash workers, valet parking attendants, door people, and tow truck drivers—leaving restaurant and other workers with no protections at all. Even the tipped workers who will benefit are left waiting for the law to take effect while suffering through a pandemic.

Many of these workers, under the best of circumstances, make less than they need to fully provide for themselves and their families, and rely on their tips for their livelihood. It’s often up to their bosses the extent to which they provide wages and benefits. Workers have little protection when instability or poor practices arise. 

Groups like OneFairWage (www.onefairwage.com) are fighting for essential benefits for restaurant workers, including a $15 minimum wage. But there’s much that can be done at both the federal and state level, and legislators are beginning to show interest. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has supported OneFairWage, taking time to engage impacted workers and talk about what the government can do to help. But given the new polling’s revelations about how popular relief would be in her state, Sen. Gillibrand may be just the first of a line of legislators to realize their constituents will be demanding change.

The full report is available here.