I have spent the entirety of my adult life working in the restaurant industry. Most of this time was spent working as a server, being paid a base wage of only $2.75.
I worked for five years at a diner in a college town in western Massachusetts where I was subjected to repeated and consistent sexual harassment from my coworkers and abuse from management. I was touched and kissed against my will, shown pornography on shift, endured endless comments on my body and physical attractiveness, and cornered in the walk-in cooler.
As a server, I was totally reliant on the tips and generosity of my customers in order to pay my bills. Because of this, I found myself in the helpless position of having to decide between compromising my dignity and allowing myself to be treated in this manner, or defending myself and being punished with smaller sections and retaliation from my coworkers, ultimately decreasing the tips I would receive.
At the time, I believed the myth that this “kitchen culture” is acceptable and something with which I had to put up if I wanted to pay my rent on time. When I pointed out the unfairness of my situation, where my income could be tremendously affected and reduced despite my work ethic and ability to do my job well, I was reminded that my labor was expendable and that I was not valued as an employee or a person.
For me and so many others, the Fight for $15 and One Fair Wage would be life-changing. The ability to afford basic health care, food, and rent without worry is something that everybody deserves without question. Although I now manage a restaurant in Cambridge, I will not stop fighting for $15 so that I can ensure my employees their dignity and ability to survive.