New York City restaurant workers say they will put their vote where their wages are

Scores of New York City restaurant workers took part in a nationwide “Raise the Wage” movement Wednesday, calling for increases in minimum wages — and vowing to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

The Oct. 13 action aimed to spur support for political figures who say they encourage a wage hike. Gathering outside Capital Grille on 155 East 42nd St., organizing group One Fair Wage (OFW) says the action marks the launch of the Raise the Wage Voter Fund and Voter Bloc, which looks to form a collection of like-minded voters in order to elect candidates who publicly endorse policies that end the sub-minimum wage — which permits restaurants, bars, nightclubs and others in the hospitality industry to pay their employees salaries lower than the $15 wage, which the workers supplement with tips they receive.

A worker calls for a wage rise. Photo by Dean Moses

“We’re here today across several cities to discuss a problem that’s been ongoing for several years. Millions of restaurant workers and service industry workers are leaving, day by day, because of the sub-minimum wage practices. The majority of restaurant workers own two-thirds of the minimum wage in their respective states,” Jordy Portugal of One Fair Wage said. “We’re fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15 so that we can have a sustainable wage, and a livable one.”

This attempt to raise the minimum wage for and by voters themselves has gained traction according to OFW, which says they have already amassed more than 150,000 voters, and the ‘Raise the Wage Voters’ Fund has garnered $30,000 toward a total goal of $500,000 for federal candidates.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman. Photo by Dean Moses

Holding signs reading, “Will work for fair wages. Will vote for fair wages,” several workers shared their experience, which includes sexual harassment and docked wages from employers, especially if they are immigrants.

Alfonso has been working in the food industry for over five years, and he knows first-hand that these wages are not enough to live off—let alone to make ends meet in New York City.

“These wages are not decent enough to live in New York City. In the pandemic we were working about 60+ hours weekly, and we still couldn’t even get by. We were dragging debt. It’s not enough. I see owners profiting and living decently, but we cannot,” Alfonso said, imploring elected officials to make a change.

Annette, another worker in New York, says that the pay is so deplorable many have yet to return to work.

“They keep asking us why we’re not coming back to work and we keep telling them none of us are willing to work for less than minimum wage. We want to get back to work but we’re not going to do it for less than minimum wage,” Annette said during the rally.

Disgusted at this, Bronx/Westchester Congressman Jamaal Bowman also joined the conversation, extending his support to the workers. 

“This is about raising the wage and making sure that people can earn a livable wage, without being harassed, without being oppressed, without being brutalized without being treated like crap,” Bowman said.

Bowman compared the subminimum wage to “modern day slavery,” leaving individuals to work to death and still not earn a living wage with no vacation, paid leave, union or benefits. 

OFW hopes that joint actions such as these will convince candidates to raise the minimum wage if they wish to receive votes from the concerned workers.

Those at the rally said they will vote for higher wages. Photo by Dean Moses
Dozens gathered. Photo by Dean Moses