JANE FONDA TALKS SEEKING EQUAL PAY IN the restaurant industry, and beyond

 By Katrina Froelich

10 • 24 • 2018


 
 
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Sexism in the food industry is something that Tough To Tame has written about before, but what are people actually doing about it? Almost every woman has experienced some form of harassment in her lifetime, but harassment runs particularly rampant in the food industry, and for many women who are dependent on tips, it’s arguably impossible to fight against. So how do you resist such a  widespread, systemic problem? Meet One Fair Wage.

This past Tuesday, October 9, The Riveter, a co-working space for women, alongside the esteemed fashion magazine InStyle hosted an evening of socializing and presentations in support for One Fair Wage and ROC United, organizations advancing campaigns across the country to pass legislation in cities and states that will require the restaurant industry to pay all its employees at least the regular minimum wage.

A large crowd gathered at The Riveter in West LA to eat, drink, chat, but most importantly learn about the new feminist initiative. Most likely due to recent political events, particularly Kavanaugh’s confirmation, one could feel a palpable air of anger and frustration in the room – it was hard not to notice the air of defeat that surrounded everyone at the beginning of the night. It felt like everyone was looking at each other asking, “What do we do next?”

Well, One Fair Wage had the answer. The presentations that night were designed to educate, inspire and empower and that’s exactly what they did. Amy Nelson, the Founder & CEO of The Riveter, was the first to take the stage to remind everyone that despite recent Congressional decisions, the patriarchy had not won. When she finally introduced legit living-legend Jane Fonda at the end of her speech, the crowd whispered in anticipation. And Fonda delivered. As an amazing orator and presenter, she recounted the hopelessness she felt after the election and her drive to effect change.

“I wanted to figure out how I could use my time, my energy and my resources the most effectively,” she told the crowd.

This was how she found One Fair Wage, she said. She wanted to work for an organization that had “a proven track record on the ground.” When she met Saru Jayaraman, ROC’s fearless co-founder, she found her cause. After learning about what it was like for women working in the restaurant industry and comparing it with her own experiences working as a waitress earlier in her life, Fonda found something that really resonated with her. She spoke to the crowd about how the restaurant industry is the nation’s largest employer of women, but it’s an industry where women are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior because of their dependency on customers’ tips.

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Every time Fonda spoke, the crowd nodded in agreement, sometimes even quietly sharing their own experiences to their neighbors. It seemed that almost every woman in that room had worked in the restaurant industry at one point and had had these same experiences. While women in the this industry are incredibly vulnerable to harassment from their bosses and from their customers, Fonda pointed out that this type of behavior is significantly reduced when the minimum wage for tip workers is raised.

“There are seven states - California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Minnesota and Alaska who have one fair wage… and sexual harassment on the job has cut in half,” she said. “When women are paid fairly… they don’t put up with that behaviour.”

One Fair Wage’s goal? Get every state to implement One Fair Wage for all tip workers.

Jayaraman spoke after Fonda, outlining her journey in starting the non-profit public service organization as an attorney, author, and activist in the Bay Area. She spoke clearly about the restaurant industry’s main problems, and just how prevalent it is becoming.

“Despite the industry's size and growth… it is the nation’s absolute lowest-paying employers,” she said.

She also spoke about what this means for us as a society.

“We are growing the low wage floor of the economy, so that right now about one in three working Americans work full-time or more than full-time and still live in poverty,” she said. “And that number is only growing. And because tipped workers are predominantly female, this poverty burden falls disproportionately on women. This is also compounded by the fact that the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S. The dependence on tips makes women in the industry easy targets for harassment as they struggle to navigate very real power dynamics. As waitresses we are not taught to tolerate harassment, we’re taught to encourage harassment.”

Her entire speech was met with encouraging snaps and sometimes even cheers but this line hit home for almost every woman in that room.

As the evening moved on, other women shared their stories including actresses and models Saffron Burrows, Erika Alexander and Judy Greer. Jael Madai Gonzalez, a current ROC member also spoke about what it’s currently like for her to work in the industry and how important the One Fair Wage campaign is to her.

The stories that were told were not at all foreign to almost any woman in the room – at one point, the crowd was asked to raise their hand if they had worked in the restaurant industry, and almost every hand went up, and it became clear that almost every woman in the room was familiar with the idea that one’s entire income as a restaurant worker is determined by an ability to tolerate the intolerable .

As the panel commenced, the palpable dejection felt in the room at the beginning of the night slowly transitioned to feelings of inspiration and empowerment to support organizations in the country woking to resist these systemic forms of injustice. And the speakers made it clear that the fight isn’t constricted to those in D.C., but everywhere that men feel entitled to women’s bodies and women are put in situations where they are continuously harassed.

That night every person in the crowd, both men and women, stepped up and donated what they could - their time, their money, their efforts to be better and do better.

*If you’re interested in working for or donating to Roc United or One Fair Wage check out their websites at http://www.rocunited.org and http://onefairwage.com . You can also read Saru Jayaraman’s book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.


Katrina Froelich is the Fashion Editor at Tough to Tame. She’s worked in the fashion industry for over four years, gaining experience in PR and Editorial work at companies such as GUESS and Forme. You can reach her at katrinafroelich@toughtotame.org

(Photos via Getty Images)