Serving up change: Deputy Secretary of Labor steps into the shoes of Chelsea servers for fair wage initiative

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su, and others spent Monday morning waiting tables in hopes of promoting fair wages throughout the restaurant industry.

Slipping into the shoes of servers at Baodega on 7 West 20th St. in Chelsea, the officials advocated for staff all across the city to receive a full $15 per hour minimum wage with tips by waiting on those whose profession it is to wait on others.

Members of One Fair Wage — an organization working to end all subminimum wage — took seats and prepared for their orders to be taken. Maloney and Su darted around the tables jotting down the names of drinks and breakfasts. Then the small band of fledgling servers filled up coffee cups and juggled trays of sandwiches before dropping off the dishes.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su takes down the orders. Photo by Dean Moses
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney sets up the orders. Photo by Dean Moses

This was not only an effort to raise awareness for the subminimum wage but also to showcase the difficulties of being a server in the Big Apple. According to One Fair Wage, during the COVID-19 pandemic waitresses have seen a rise of sexual abuse and have repeatedly been asked to lower their masks in order to have their looks judged for tips.

With individuals such as the congresswoman waiting tables, it is hoped that more attention can be drawn to their cause.

“Change doesn’t come easily, but it comes if you never give up,” Maloney said after donning an apron. “Not only are the majority of the workers female, they are underpaid, underappreciated, and often face constant sexual harassment. Anyone who works eight hours should get a minimum wage.”

Su agreed, also stating that helping to fund a worker also aids in funding the business.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su brings tea. Photo by Dean Moses
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney fills up coffee. Photo by Dean Moses

“We have seen employers across the country respond to this moment by realizing the welfare of workers is critical to the wellbeing of their business. That there is a deep interconnection between how workers are treated and how profitable, how sustainable a business is,” Su said.

Additionally, the tour shined a light on the pandemic-created program “High Road Kitchens’” success, which are restaurants that receive government grants since they are committed to paying staff full minimum wage and tips. One Fair Wage hopes that this showcase will bring about the necessary change to end subminimum wage for tipped workers and boost the food industry as the city moves forward from the pandemic.  

This was but one stop on a larger tour the Secretary of Labor is participating in. She is also making stops in Queens and Brooklyn where she will serve more diners.