Service workers today face more sexual harassment in Massachusetts
Service industry workers are usually paid below the minimum wage and need to rely on tips to make the difference – now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, new problems emerge. The Boston Eater cites a new report from One Fair Wage, which finds that more than 80% of workers are seeing a decline in tips and over 40% say they’re facing an increase in sexual harassment from customers.
Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage, noted that the team members who worked on the report were really shocked with how horrific the situation truly is – specifically the huge increase in hostility and sexual harassment.”
The group surveyed roughly 1,600 restaurant workers in five states, among which Massachusetts is one of them, with 143 workers surveyed. The title of the report, “Take off your mask so I know how much to tip you,” is a reference to one of several disturbing comments women workers say they’ve been hearing from patrons. “Women across the country who work in restaurants are being asked to remove their masks so that male customers can judge their looks and therefore their tips on that basis,” Jayaraman said.
In what Jayaraman terms “maskual harassment,” the phenomenon’s underlying power imbalance is no different than sexual harassment, she said, when workers are reliant on the customer’s tips. Demanding a service worker to take their mask off, she argued, is asking them to “subject herself to the virus and the possibility of death — for the sexual pleasure of customers, all because she doesn’t get paid a minimum wage.”
Paying fair wages to prevent sexual harassment
To Jayaraman, the solution is clear cut: Pay service workers fair wages. “When you get a full wage from your boss, you don’t have to put up with everything from the customers,” she said. Seven states have eliminated the federal subminimum wage. Workers in those states report one-half the rate of sexual harassment as do workers in states with the subminimum wage, according to One Fair Wage. This solution seems a more convenient one, as further increases in sexual harassment can place victims in a difficult situation, as they may need to enlist the aid of lawyers to procure the evidence to file a lawsuit.
In response to the One Fair Wage report findings, the National Restaurant Association told NPR in a statement that it condemns sexual harassment and continues to work to confront that challenge through workplace training programs. “It does not matter if the harasser is a customer, a colleague, or a manager, it will not be tolerated in our industry,” the statement read.
The association also said it’s “open to the conversation about wage levels in the industry and the impact any change would have on the economic recovery of both workers and restaurant operators.”
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