The New York congresswoman returned to a restaurant in Queens on Friday, seeking to highlight the plight of workers she knows
As she returned to New York to waitress and bartend for the first time since entering Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the federal tipped minimum wage was tantamount to indentured servitude.
Before she rose to national fame as the representative for New Yorks 14th congressional district, the 29-year-old from the Bronx worked at a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan. On Friday she went back to waiting tables and mixing drinks, in support of One Fair Wage, a policy that would entitle tipped workers to a minimum wage of $15 an hour plus tips.
The federal minimum wage for restaurant and bar workers and other tip-reliant jobs such as nail salon workers is just $2.13 an hour. Although the minimum wage in New York is $15 an hour, this does not apply to tipped workers, who can be paid as little as $7.50.
Dressed in an apron and standing behind the bar of The Queensboro restaurant in Jackson Heights, Ocasio-Cortez told cheering workers and small business owners the current rate was unacceptable.
Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job, its indentured servitude, she said, to loud applause. All labour has dignity. And the way that we give labour dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth at minimum. We have to make one fair wage and we have to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, nothing less.
In cities such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago, she said, the minimum wage should be higher, to support the runaway costs of living.
Because when our rents are running away, when our food costs are running away, in dense cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, we need to make sure that people are paid enough to live, period, she said.
Ocasio-Cortez also described how working in the industry for four years, first as a hostess at an Irish pub while in high school and working at restaurants after college, left her dependent on tips and forced to make compromises.
I remember working in restaurants, she said, and, you know, you would have someone say something extremely inappropriate to you, or youd have someone touch you, and the thing is it would be the 28th of the month, the 29th of the month. And the first of the next month was rolling right around and you have a rent cheque to pay.
And so you are more likely to stand up for yourself and to reject sexual harassment on the 15th of the month, or maybe the 10th of the month, when you could pick up an extra shift to make up for telling that guy to go buzz off.
She said women are particularly vulnerable: As a woman you allow yourself, we allow ourselves, to be more vulnerable than any person should ever be in the United States of America because of economic desperation.