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Restaurants find an unlikely ally in their fight to keep workers: Organized labor

The union-backed group One Fair Wage has earmarked $1 million for grants to help stem an exodus of restaurant servers.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The labor advocacy group One Fair Wage is aiming to discourage restaurant servers from leaving the industry by supplementing their wages with grants of up to $1,200.

The union-affiliated nonprofit has created a $1 million pool to support the Wages Can't Wait initiative. One Fair Wage says the beneficiaries are expected to join the group in calling for a nationwide end to the tip credit, but did not indicate if agreeing to provide that support is a prerequisite for approval.

One Fair Wage said the income supplement is necessary because of the low wages and tips that servers have received during the pandemic. But the timing suggests that it shares employers’ concerns about the exodus of workers from the industry. Virtually every measure of sales and traffic for the last few weeks shows full-service establishments pushing past the sales levels of 2019. The numbers indicate that the earning potential of servers is sharply on the rise.

Fewer servers in the industry would mean fewer potential union recruits. The industry currently employees about 2.5 million less people than it did pre-pandemic, according to government figures.

One Fair Wage said servers who have just walked off their jobs or are thinking of doing so are eligible for the grants. The announcement of the initiative provided little additional information on the criteria for the aid.

The group is lobbying the federal government to nationally outlaw the tip credit, which allows employers to count gratuities toward the minimum wages that employees are due. Seven states, including California, do not permit restaurants to take a tip credit.

The organization says its membership consists of 200,000 service-industry employees and 800 restaurant employers. It is believed to receive funding from the Service Employees International Union, and is currently led by Saru Jayaraman, who moved to the president’s job from the SEIU-backed Restaurant Opportunity Centers.

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