Michigan Congresswoman Pushes Restaurant Workers Bill of Rights • Georgia Recorder

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, reintroduced legislation Tuesday aimed at improving the lives of U.S. restaurant workers.

The Restaurant Workers Bill of Rights would increase wages and improve working conditions for restaurant staff. Tlaib, who also pushed this legislation last year, held a news conference Tuesday alongside colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and restaurant workers who shared their stories.

The bill is supported by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives and rights of restaurant workers. It is the largest and oldest restaurant employee-led organization in the country.
ROC United members carried signs and cheered in support of the protected rights of restaurant workers at the press event outside the U.S. Capitol.

According to a press release, Tlaib's bill lists the following rights for restaurant employees:

  • “A thriving wage,” which includes raising the minimum wage.
  • “The right to healing and rest, including the right to paid family and medical leave.”
  • “The right to a safe and dignified work environment, including enforceable federal workplace protections.”
  • “The right to universal health care and bodily autonomy, including ensuring that all Americans have equal access to comprehensive, quality, and affordable health care.”
  • “The right to democracy in their workplace, including protecting workers’ rights to organize without fear of reprisal and transparency regarding wages, tips and policies.”

The pandemic and after


According to Tlaib, there are more than 12 million restaurant workers in the country who are an essential part of the economy. Many of these workers have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic.

“Even as restaurant workers came back to work, if anything, it became clearer than ever that workers living paycheck to paycheck had to stop,” Tlaib said, “and that there were systemic problems that stemmed from that Our restaurant employees, most of whom are women, people of color and immigrants, impact the lives of our employees every day.”

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Louisiana Democrat who accompanied Tlaib at the press event, said restaurant workers “make the ultimate sacrifice in serving.”

“COVID has shown us that when we really wanted to eat and there were very few places we could go, our restaurant operators, our restaurant workers were there,” Carter said. “They’ve stepped up.”

Many of these workers had to come to work even if they themselves weren't feeling well, Carter said.

“Shouldn't they be taken care of?” said Carter. “Shouldn’t they be given a chance to rest? Shouldn't they be given the opportunity to earn a wage commensurate with the incredible work they do? Of course the answer is yes.”

Minimum wage as a tip

Tlaib's bill, which is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would increase the minimum wage. After that, federal law would require that restaurant workers be paid the full minimum wage and that tips be provided in addition to that wage.

Many states allow restaurant owners to pay their employees $2.13 per hour before tips. Congress has not increased this wage since 1991.

“$2.13 is not a living wage, it is a pittance,” Tlaib said.

Carter asked viewers to ask themselves whether they would work in an industry for so long without a raise.

“It’s time we give our restaurant workers the support and empowerment they need so they can live fulfilling lives,” said U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez, an Illinois Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

Toxic work environments

The legislation also aims to improve the work environment for restaurant workers, who often report workplace toxicity and sexual harassment.

“So many, especially women, have come up to me and talked to me about these toxic work environments,” Tlaib said.

The bill stipulates that restaurant workers should have access to housing and child care, as well as universal health care.

“You deserve to rest,” Tlaib said to the restaurant workers gathered behind her.

Lisa Baptiste, ROC United member and New York restaurant worker, shared her experiences as a guest worker from the Caribbean. Since she was undocumented, she said, her only option was to work in a restaurant when she first moved to the United States

Baptiste said she never received paid sick pay or family vacation pay.

“As a mother of three children, one of whom has special needs, it was extremely difficult to find someone capable, trustworthy and affordable to care for my son,” Baptiste said.

She said she often has to leave work early or miss work to care for her son, which she said many caregivers struggle with. She said she couldn't afford the experienced caregiver her son needed.

“Life was difficult as a restaurant worker,” Baptiste said. “It was challenging in many ways. I have to choose which bills I want to pay because my weekly income isn’t enough to pay everything.”

Baptiste said she wants restaurant workers' wages to increase and for workers to receive “the healing and rest we deserve, including child support and paid sick and family leave.”

Carter said he and his colleagues would “fight to make sure this (legislation) goes above and beyond the target.”

“We will fight to get the matter to the president’s desk,” he said.