U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries & Other Elected Officials Wait Tables Supporting Raising Wages for New York Tipped Workers

First of Several Vignettes

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY 8th District) being interviewed outside Locals Restaurant, 332 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn. September 3, 2019
Actress Erika Alexander

[For readers who don’t know much about tipped workers.]

Yep, that’s right, U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, served food and drinks to customers in support of One Fair Wage in New York as well as the Raise the Wage Act, which was historically passed in the United States House of Representatives on July 18, 2019, and is now waiting to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate.

The rally took place at September 3, Locals Restaurant, owned by Mutale Kanyanta, an African-American leader in Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The following background-historical information according to Anthony Advincula, Public Affairs Officer, Restaurants Opportunities Center United.

In New York, more than 50 percent of restaurant employees are primarily people of color, many of whom are immigrants, who live in poverty and access public benefits at greater rates than non-tipped workers. About 16 percent of tipped workers in the state are single mothers. And in New York City nearly one out of five tipped workers use food stamp benefits, compared to 15 percent of non-tipped employees, and 28 percent of tipped workers receive Medicaid, in contrast to 18 percent of non-tipped workers. The current minimum wage for tipped workers in New York City is $8.65 and $15 for all other workers.

One Fair Wage states have also shown a full-service restaurant employment increase of 20.4 percent between 2011 and 2017, as compared to 16.4 percent in subminimum wage states. The seven states are also projected to experience the largest increase in restaurant sales (5.1 percent growth), as compared to 4.24 percent in sub-minimum wage states.

I am not a waitress but I do play one on TV. I know you guys are happy about that because I did okay today. I really did.

I really do know and understand the hard work that goes into this. I didn’t have that background but my parents, in a very bizarre way, my father was a tipped wage worker because he was a preacher. He was an itinerant preacher. As you know, after you preach, they pass the plate. Then people take from it, and take from it and take from it and then they hand him an envelope.

He was an itinerant preacher but my parents were orphans. I was born in the mountains of Arizona. So you can image how difficult it was for him to scrape up these types of, I’ll just call them gigs, where he would go and he would be invited to preach revivals, things like that. He’d preach the whole week and then they’d hand him $60 at the end of it. That’s how we lived.

So I spent the first 11 years of my life in a hotel called Starlight off of Route 66. So I am, in a bizarre way, I understand very much how a family cannot live on those wages. The only thing that changed it, by the way, was that he changed his denomination from Church of God in Christ, COGIC, to Baptist Pentecostal to Lutheran. They were paying a salary. They sent him to the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where he was suddenly able to have health care and all that came with it.

But before then he had a heart attack at 35. By 52 he was passed away. His church was down the road in East New York. By that time I was doing the Cosby Show. I was able to help my mother and six other children which he had. So I’m thanking you today and telling you that I’m with you. I’m fighting for you. I may play one on TV but my heart is with you. More importantly, whatever I can do to help and spread the word and amplify, I will do.

Thank you so much for inviting me to these things. You know what? I’m actually really getting some really good method acting here. So this is good. I’m glad that everyone’s seeing it because I’m going to get props. But no. All kidding aside, thank you so much.

Award Winning Assistant J-Professor, Hunter College/CUNY. Author, Writer. Blogs at blog.hunterword.com. Using Medium.com to test drive writing projects.