Your Server Isn’t on the Menu

For women who make their living off tips, sexual harassment is a constant workplace peril.

By Marjorie E. Wood

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At a popular sit-down restaurant in Independence, Missouri, Allison waits tables for $3.60 an hour — the going rate for servers at her restaurant.

Advocates of raising the federal hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 up to the standard minimum wage — currently pegged at $7.25 — understand that living on tips is difficult. As Allison put it, “There are times when guests have left me one dollar or 50 cents just because they got angry at something.”

Sexual Harrassment and Tipped Workers
No Crop Photo/Flickr

In other words, tipped workers are financially insecure. According to the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty and nearly twice as likely to be on food stamps as the general population.

But there is another, less obvious, reason to abolish this sub-minimum wage, according to a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

Not only are servers like Allison more likely to be poor — they are also highly likely to experience sexual harassment on the job. The new report found that a staggering 90 percent of tipped workers in the restaurant industry are sexually harassed.

Surveying nearly 700 current and former restaurant workers, ROC — in partnership with Forward Together — found that customers, co-workers, and management regularly impose “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” on industry employees.

Women reported experiencing sexual harassment more often than men, with a majority of respondents encountering it on at least a weekly basis. Women were also more likely to say that sexual harassment was “an uncomfortable aspect of the work environment.”

Living on tips means that women — who make up two-thirds of all tipped restaurant servers — are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than on their employer.

This creates an environment, the report says, in which women must “please and curry favor with customers” for their livelihood. Often, that means tolerating unwanted sexual advances. So it’s no surprise that while the restaurant industry employs only 7 percent of American women, it generates more than a third of all federal sexual harassment claims.

Yet the phenomenon varies widely from state to state. Interestingly, the report found that in states that pay the same minimum wage to all workers — tipped and non-tipped alike — women were less likely to experience sexual harassment.

In so-called “$2.13 states,” however, tipped women workers were three times more likely to be told by management to “alter their appearance and to wear ‘sexier,’ more revealing clothing” than they were in states that had eliminated the tipped wage. And they were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as women in states that have one minimum wage for all workers.

Men and non-tipped workers were also more likely to report being sexually harassed in $2.13 states.

What does all this add up to?

Eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers would do more than just improve women’s financial security. It would also create a safer, more equitable workplace where servers like Allison won’t have to tolerate inappropriate advances to make a living.

ROC is continuing to collect stories from tipped restaurant workers on its website at rocunited.org. If you’ve ever experienced sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, share your story with ROC.

It’s time to send a message to the industry and to policymakers that servers aren’t on the menu.

OtherWords columnist Marjorie E. Wood is a senior economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and the managing editor of Inequality.org. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

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Can You Hear Us Now?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is refusing to participate in any public hearings on Net Neutrality.

By Mary Alice Crim and Candace Clement

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On a recent Monday night in Brooklyn, five empty chairs stood on stage — one for each member of the Federal Communications Commission. A crowd had amassed in the room for a public hearing to send this message to the agency: Don’t hurt the open Internet.

But the commissioners’ absence sent a stronger message: We’re not listening.

The Corporate Fox in the Chicken Coop, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

When Corporate Foxes Mind Internet Coops, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The FCC — the agency charged with regulating telecommunications — is expected to vote by the end of the year on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to let Internet service providers (ISPs) offer “fast lanes” to companies that can afford to pay for speedier access.

Hundreds of businesses, organizations, and websites that rely on an open Internet have slammed the plan, which would kill Net Neutrality — the principle that requires ISPs to treat all traffic equally. Net Neutrality has made the Internet an unrivaled space for free speech, civic participation, innovation and opportunity. Without it, a few ISPs would become the gatekeepers of everything we do, say, and see online.

During the public comment period, nearly 4 million people— a record-breaking figure — weighed in on Wheeler’s plan. A whopping 99 percent of these comments oppose this proposal, according to one study.

Given the unprecedented public interest in this issue, many groups have urged the FCC to get out of Washington and host public hearings. But so far Wheeler has ignored this call.

In fact, the FCC has gone out of its way to avoid attending public gatherings like the one in Brooklyn. It’s been more than five years since all five FCC commissioners left Washington together to participate in a public hearing where anyone could testify.

These kinds of public hearings used to be commonplace for the agency, regardless of which political party was in control of Washington. But Wheeler’s FCC is different.

Instead of appearing at events with open microphones, Wheeler — a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries — has opted to attend industry trade shows. In fact, all five commissioners consistently attend the annual conventions of the cable, wireless, broadcasting, and electronics industries.

Yet somehow they just can’t find the time to meet with the public.

The FCC seems to fear hearing from everyday people who use the Internet to communicate, connect, learn, and survive. And while some of the commissioners have left Washington on a few occasions since Wheeler proposed his rules (Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai convened an official FCC hearing in College Station, Texas), the chairman himself has been absent from any public events on Net Neutrality.

“This is a real inflection point for us as a society,” says former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who attended dozens of public hearings during his decade in office and spoke at the event in Brooklyn. “The decisions they’re going to make between now and the end of the year are probably the most important that the FCC is going to make in a generation.”

The commissioners, Copps concludes, shouldn’t vote “until they get out of the Beltway and listen to the people who have to live with the results of their decisions.”

As the clock ticks down to a final FCC vote — which could happen as soon as December — the question looms large: Where is Tom Wheeler? And why won’t he meet with the people he’s supposed to serve?

Candace Clement is the Internet campaign director for Free Press and Mary Alice Crim is the organization’s field director. FreePress.net
Distributed via OtherWords

Shell Annual Report Delivers A Fossil-Fueled Bombshell

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

— By Brett Fleishman

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Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.

Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the  report’s “risk factors” section:

If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.

It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.

Fossil-fuel companies already hold more coal, oil, and gas reserves than people and industry can possibly use before climate change reaches the point where life as we know it can’t continue.

Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.

Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?

The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.

And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?

As a senior analyst for 350.org, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.

In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.

People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.

Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.

The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.

Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.

“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.

If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.

Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for 350.org.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Return to Sender

Saturday delivery is vital for the elderly, disabled, people in rural areas, and those who need medicine or equipment delivered to their doors.

By Fredric Rolando, President–National Association of Letter Carriers

Fredric Rolando

Rooted in the Constitution and older than the country itself, the U.S. Postal Service supports 7.5 million private-sector jobs in the mailing industry. The Postal Service is essential to the fast-growing Internet sales industry. And the USPS is navigating this struggling economy relatively well, even making an operating profit in the most recent quarter.

Yes, making a profit. When you count how much money the Postal Service earned on postage, and subtract how much it spent delivering the mail and paying related bills, the Postal Service earned a $100 million profit in the last three months of 2012. And remember, the USPS uses no taxpayer money.

So why all this talk about the Postal Service losing money? And why is Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe planning to end Saturday mail delivery?

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There’s no question the Postal Service faces big challenges. Both email and a struggling economy are dragging down mail volume. But the Postal Service’s financial problem is actually driven by Congress’s decision to “pre-fund” retiree health care costs. Beginning in 2007, the USPS has been required to pay 75 years of those costs in advance, and to do so within just ten years.

This pre-funding accounts for about 80 percent of the “losses” sustained by the Postal Service over the last six years that you’ve heard so much about. Indeed, that last quarterly profit was wiped out by a $1.4 billion pre-funding payment.

No other government agency or private company is required to pre-fund retiree healthcare. This isn’t the same thing as postal pensions, which should be, and are, pre-funded. Most businesses just pay retiree health care bills when they’re due, but the pre-funding law forces the USPS to pay these bills all at once, far in advance.

Any other company would use its available funds to modernize so it can stay healthy. The Postal Service should be taking advantage of the enormous growth in package delivery driven by Internet sales. Instead, because it must put every spare penny into pre-funding retiree healthcare, it’s stuck in crisis mode.

What’s more, the savings from dropping Saturday delivery would be much smaller than they appear. Cutting Saturday service will drive away some Monday-through-Friday customers too, such as magazine and newspaper publishers that may just switch to other delivery services for the entire week. A study by the Postal Regulatory Commission found that ending Saturday delivery would hurt the public and save significantly less than previous claims suggest.

Saturday delivery is particularly vital for the elderly, disabled, people in rural areas, and those who need medicine or equipment delivered to their doors. No other company provides universal delivery service to every address in the country, six days a week. Even private shippers such as FedEx and UPS use the U.S. Mail for up to a third of their final deliveries to customers’ doors because they can’t match the efficiency of the postal network.

Congress has required Saturday delivery by law for three decades. Instead of trying to defy Congress, Postmaster General Donahoe should urge lawmakers to fix the pre-funding problem and give the Postal Service room to adapt for the future.

Letter carriers aren’t waiting for Donahoe to figure this out. We’ll be out in full force across America on Sunday, March 24. At rallies in Mobile, Alabama, Bismarck, North Dakota, San Diego, California, and more than 100 other cities and towns, we’ll have a clear message for Congress — keep Saturday delivery, end the unnecessary pre-funding, and develop a real reform plan that gives the Postal Service the freedom to grow and innovate in the digital era.

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For more information or to find a rally near you, please visit deliveringforamerica.com.


Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents nearly 300,000 letter carriers across the country. NALC.org
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Health Care Access Shouldn’t Require Good Luck

For me, the Affordable Care Act means that when I graduate from college, I won’t have to take a job that I hate to get the health care that I need.

By Hilary Matfess

Hilary Matfess

I may have lupus, but I’m lucky.

When I was 13 and growing up in Augusta, Georgia, I began to experience the same symptoms of the chronic inflammatory disease that my mother was diagnosed with in her early 30s. A group of capable doctors identified the problems and developed a course of observation and treatment. The health insurance offered by my dad’s job as a hotel manager, in addition to the love and care of my wonderful parents, made it possible for me to become the reasonably healthy college student that I am today.

But millions haven’t been as lucky. More than 50 million Americans lack health insurance altogether and 29 million adults are underinsured. That’s one in four Americans who, if confronted with anything from a cold to cancer, can’t get adequate treatment at a reasonable price.

The author celebrates the Affordable Care Act ruling outside the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of Slate's Dave Weigel.

Many of the Affordable Care Act’s opponents say that people who lack coverage chose to be that way. But that’s overwhelmingly not the situation. Millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, what insurers call past health complications, are denied coverage.

At right, the author celebrates the Affordable Care Act ruling outside the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of Slate’s Dave Weigel.

The truth is that for most American adults, if their or their spouses’ jobs don’t provide affordable health insurance, they’ve got little choice but to remain uninsured. And millions of people who do have coverage go bankrupt or have trouble paying their medical bills when they or their relatives get sick.

The conservatives who are attacking the Affordable Care Act make the groundless claim that it would usher in some kind of socialist system. Yet the simple fact is that the 2010 health care reform will mean that 82 million Americans will have access to the doctors, treatments, and medicine they need to be the best students, parents, employees, and community members that they can be.

Undoubtedly, the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. But I’m still celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling as a promising sign that Americans are on the brink of adopting a health care system based on a sense of community, not luck.

For me, the Affordable Care Act means that when I graduate from college, I won’t have to take a job that I hate to get the health care that I need because of the increase in options this act creates. For many people, however, it’s something much bigger — a monumental opportunity to better their lives by obtaining access to health care.


Hilary Matfess is an Institute for Policy Studies intern and a Johns Hopkins University student.  For more information about lupus, visit the Lupus Foundation of America‘s website at lupus.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)