Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was back behind a bar Friday night as she mixed drinks at the Queensboro Restaurant in Queens to support a campaign to increase the federal minimum wage. “I’ve always got my backup job,” she joked. “I’ve still got it!” The 29-year-od freshman lawmaker specifically advocated for workers who must rely on tips to get a decent wage. “I was nervous that I may have lost my touch—still got it! That muscle memory doesn’t quit,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
The vast majority of states allow employers to pay workers below the federal minimum age if they can make up the difference in tips. “Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job. It’s indentured servitude,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “All labor has dignity and the way that we give labor dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth.” That is why, she argued, the national minimum wage must increase to $15 an hour. It is particularly important to guarantee a minimum wage to workers in cities with a high cost of living, Ocasio-Cortez argued. “When our rents are running away, when our food costs are running away, in dense cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, we need to make sure that people are paid enough to live, period,” she said.
Being so reliant on tips ultimately leaves workers more vulnerable to harassment and other type of labor violations. “I remember working in restaurants, and, you know, you would have someone say something extremely inappropriate to you, or you’d have someone touch you, and the thing is it would be the 28th of the month, the 29th of the month. And the first of the next month was rolling right around and you have a rent check to pay,” she said. “And so you are more likely to stand up for yourself and to reject sexual harassment on the 15th of the month, or maybe the 10th of the month, when you could pick up an extra shift to make up for telling that guy to go buzz off.”