The Olive Garden in Center City was packed Wednesday afternoon with patrons enjoying a late lunch or an early drink.
“We’re here for the birthday party,” a group of people said to the hostess. The young woman waved them through to the bar area without question.
As waves of “partygoers” continued to inundate the eatery, staff soon realized the group –much it comprised of advocates with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia – wasn’t commemorating an anniversary for a friend.
They were calling to the 22nd “birthday” of the stagnation of the federal tipped minimum wage.
Wednesday marked the the fourth year that has passed without an increase in the country’s federal minimum wage, which sits stagnant at $7.25 an hour, and the 22nd year that’s gone by without a hike in the federal tipped minimum wage, which remains $2.13 an hour–$2.83 in Pennsylvania.
Though the party ended peacefully after activists sang a few rousing rounds of “Happy Birthday” inside the packed bar, they said they’ll continue to fight.
“The restaurant industry is a multibillion dollar a year industry,” ROC Philadelphia legal coordinator Sheila Maddali said.
“The industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy and the only industry that continued to grow during the recession. However, the restaurant industry is the lowest wage employer in the country.”
ROC estimates servers are three times as likely to live at or below the poverty rate as the rest of the U.S. workforce and use food stamps at double the rate.
They claim companies like Olive Garden owner Darden Restaurants, Inc. – which also runs the Red Lobster and Capital Grille chains – together with lobbyist the National Restaurant Association, “set the industry standard by aggressively advocating against wage increases.”
Workers and activists are calling on legislators to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015, index the minimum wage to increase with inflation and boost the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the full standard.
The national day of action for minimum wage increases reached all the way to the Capitol Wednesday, where elected officials gathered to urge Congress’ swift passage of the measure.
“We have to make sure that working families can keep up with the economy,” Fair Minimum Wage Act sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin said in a statement.
He noted between 2009 and 2012, rent has risen 4 percent, food is 8 percent more expensive, child care costs have grown by 9 percent, and public transportation costs for the average worker have risen 13 percent.
“Also, by increasing the minimum wage, we can give tens of millions of workers more money in their paychecks to spend at local businesses, increasing sales and boosting economic activity,” Harkin said.
According to an Economic Policy Institute analysis, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would:
>> Boost pay for more than 30 million low-wage workers in the country.
>> Generate more than $32 billion in new economic activity.
>> Support the creation of 140,000 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand, which drives 70 percent of the economy.