If you’ve been paying attention to the news, then you’d notice that there’s been a lot of talk about the federal minimum wage lately.

Today, Uncle Sam sets the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour but some states have their own minimum wage laws—allowing employees to earn a little more than the federal standing.

But, if you are a restaurant worker who earns tips, the sub-minimum wage is $2.13 an hour and has been on ice for decades.

Today in America, 43 states allow for a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, while only 28 of these states have instituted state sub-minimum-wages above $2.13. This means that in 15 states, and Puerto Rico, tipped restaurant workers take home an hourly wage that is just enough to buy a pack of gum.

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that has been all the buzz was first introduced with a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. It also eliminated the tipped minimum wage of $2.13. Alas, Senate officials shut the proposed minimum wage hike down, but politicians and advocacy groups continue the fight for $15.

Saru Jayaraman is one of those warriors.

As the president of One Fair Wage and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley, Jayaraman is committed to seeing that tipped restaurant workers are paid equitably. The attorney and professor reminds us that the legacy of tipping in the United States is based on a legacy of slavery.

Here’s how: In the U.S. tipping spread in the 1800s, following the Civil War. Emancipated Black men often worked as Pullman porters on trains, while Black women worked in restaurants. And despite being freed, both groups were first exploited and denied what they rightfully deserved.

“The idea of tipping being mutated from an extra bonus on top of the wage to becoming the wage itself—becoming a replacement for wages—really cannot be understood as anything other than a devaluation of Black lives and women’s work,” says Jayaraman.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II also has been fighting for economic justice and other issues of equality for decades. He’s the national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and says that racism goes beyond racial slurs and violence.

“Racism is not just police brutality.” Rev. Barber continued, “Racism is also when you use public policy to block people from health care and they die. In this particular epidemic, the majority of the people that died first, that were forced to go to work first, got infected first, got sick first, died first were poor, low wealth people.”

Learn more about tipping, minimum wage and the fight for equity in this episode of Unpack That.

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