(VIDEO) Sen. Gillibrand and NARAL New York Host Anti-Stupak Media Conference

Brady Swenson

Senator Gillibrand helped lead efforts to defeat the Stupak-Pitts amendment in Senate and continues to lead the effort to have the language removed before final passage of health reform. The Senator was joined by NARAL New York and Gloria Steinem at a media conference on November 16th.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House health care reform bill will effectively ban abortion coverage in the new health system.

This amendment will dial back women’s access to abortion care far beyond the limitations that already exist under federal law by banning any plan purchased with a federal subsidy from covering abortion care, even making it largely impossible for women to use their own dollars to obtain abortion coverage.

On November 16, NARAL Pro-Choice New York stood alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Chris Quinn, Gloria Steinem, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Councilmember Jessica Lappin, and other pro-choice advocates in opposing the Stupak Amendment:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

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New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:

Feminist leader Gloria Steinem:

NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlin:

Read NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s statement condemning the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.

See more videos from the press conference.

Access to abortion faced a bitter fight in the House of Representatives, where our New York delegation held strong in admirably opposing Stupak-Pitts: with the exception of Peter King (NY-3) and Chris Lee (NY-26), both of whom voted for the insidious amendment, New York’s entire congressional delegation voted to oppose it.

Now, we have to put up the same resistance in the Senate. With your activism and support, pro-choice senators can still ensure that health care reform does not come at an unacceptably high cost to women. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Save the date for our December 2 lobby day in Washington DC.

  • Phone bank with us on 11/17 and 11/19 as we try to activate pro-choice supporters across the country to oppose the ban on abortion funding. Join us in our office or remotely from anywhere across the state!

  • Email Senators Gillibrand and Schumer to ask them to stand firm against Stupak and similar restrictions in the new health care reform bill.

  • Call Senator Gillibrand at 202-224-4451 and Senator Schumer at 202-224-6542 to encourage them to continue to lead the charge against an anti-choice takeover of health care reform.

Commentary Politics

Why Political Platforms Must Center the Most Marginalized People

Monica Simpson

"To ensure that all people and all families have the opportunity to thrive, our political platforms must be intersectional, so that the most marginalized are centered and our whole lives are honored," said SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective Executive Director Monica Simpson in a recent speech.

Editor’s note: This speech was given by SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective Executive Director Monica Simpson before the Democratic National Convention Platform Drafting Committee on June 17. The hearing was held as part of a process to determine “what should be included in the party’s platform for the July 2016 convention in Philadelphia.” A version of the statement will be sent to the Republican National Committee. We are reprinting it here with permission from SisterSong.

So for identification purposes, thank you for saying who I am. I’m really excited to be here as a volunteer and advocate to provide information to the drafting committee about the importance of reproductive justice and to highlight how the platform might address the priorities, experiences, and struggles of women of color.

So I grew up in the rural South, in a town with only one stoplight, in a town where racial divide was blatantly drawn by railroad tracks that split the town from the haves and the have-nots. I remember being forced to sign the prom promise that locked us into abstinence-only sex education, where we were given that [information about sexual health] only over one course period. And unfortunately, this is still the case.

Also in my church, the place where most Black people in my Southern community received political education, every young woman except three of us were pregnant before graduating high school. The nearest abortion clinic for those who were strong enough to endure the shame of their community and the church was 30 miles away. There were no sidewalks, or public transportation system, to get a person there, even if they wanted to have one.

Most felt stuck within the town limits, where the jobs were basically nonexistent. The then-newly built private prison that needed to be filled was a constant reminder of the criminal justice system that separated so many young mothers from the fathers of their children.

In this story, you can see how the overlapping issues like race, economic barriers, faith, and criminal justice can make it difficult and sometimes impossible for marginalized communities to access the services that they need. This is what intersectionality looks like. And it’s because of these types of stories like mine that Black women came together to establish the reproductive justice movement, now 20 years ago.

Reproductive justice, distinct from reproductive health and rights, is a movement-building framework that envisions liberation for the most marginalized. We believe that reproductive justice will be achieved when all people have the economic, social, and political power and means to make decisions about their bodies, sexuality, faith, and family with dignity and self-determination. As you can imagine, we have a long way to go.

To ensure the health and safety of women of color, I urge you to address the formidable barriers that prevent us from getting the care we need, deny our decisions, and lead to shameful disparities. [Together], we must complete the work to ensure health care for all by expanding Medicaid nationally and passing the Health Equity and Accountability Act. This act eliminates health disparities, and the one issue [to] address most importantly to us and our work right now is the issue of maternal mortality.

Black women are dying during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period at [rates] nearly four times higher than white women. This is a public health crisis and a national shame. We must stop it in its tracks and the avalanche of state laws that push access to safe and legal abortion out of reach for people of color by those struggling to make ends meet. This isthis will be helped by ending the Hyde Amendment that puts a ban on insurance coverage for abortion, and passing the Women’s Health Protection Act which removes barriers to access.

Of course, our ability to make real decisions about pregnancy cannot be separated from the economic realities in our lives. And furthermore, everyone needs to feel safe, especially mothers and pregnant women. But unfortunately, pregnant women dealing with substance abuse are being overly criminalized in states like Tennessee. Women like Marissa Alexander in Florida [were] imprisoned for protecting [their] family and women like Purvi Patel and Kenlissia Jones were criminalized for ending their pregnancies.

The intersection of criminal justice and our reproductive lives is real and something that we cannot ignore.

Now more than ever, women of color are standing up for the issues that matter to us and demanding change, and we are voting. Change in policies, change in the political discourse, and change in leadership are needed to ensure that our communities are no longer ignored. Like the platform as a whole, this is not a one-note plan. One of my sheroes, Audre Lorde, said we cannot have single-issue movements because we do not live single-issue lives. To ensure that all people and all families have the opportunity to thrive, our political platforms must be intersectional, so that the most marginalized are centered and that our whole lives are honored.

This speech has been lightly edited for clarity.

***

Watch the full video, including the Q&A following Simpson’s speech, here:

Analysis Human Rights

New York Restaurant Workers Face Lower Tips, Still Not Enough Wages

Jean Stevens

New York tipped workers will soon see a substantial wage increase, but the increase is not nearly enough to raise more workers out of poverty, to compensate their labor fairly, and to reduce the pressure to tolerate hostile work environments or else lose out on tips.

As head server at a trendy gastropub in Manhattan, Kimmie works full-time delivering meals, pinch-hitting for other servers, refilling drinks, and meeting a variety of customer needs, earning just $5.00 an hour, the minimum for New York tipped wage workers. It’s a small fraction of her total income, however. She takes home between $100 and $200 each shift in tips, an amount that fluctuates wildly depending on the time of day, her customers, and whether it’s raining, she said with a laugh.

She’s pleased by news that the New York Department of Labor commissioner decided last month to raise the state’s subminimum wage for tipped workers from about $5.00 (depending on their job category) to $7.50 per hour, effective December 31, 2015. But it’ll barely make a dent in covering her rent and other expenses—she still needs the bulk of her tips. “No restaurant is going to want to pay what you earn from tips,” said Kimmie, who asked that we not use her full name to protect her job.

While workers’ rights advocates do consider the subminimum wage increase a step forward, as tipped workers will have to rely less on tips because of the slightly greater pay, the increase is not nearly enough to raise more workers out of poverty, to compensate their labor fairly, and to reduce the pressure to tolerate hostile work environments or else lose out on tips.

Tipped WorkThe Stress Factors

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With a median income of about $9.00 an hour including tips, about 16.7 percent of the nation’s estimated 3.5 million restaurant workers—including bartenders, servers, bussers, runners, and barbacks—live in poverty, with women workers particularly hard hit: one-fifth of women working in the restaurant industry live below the poverty line, and nearly half live at twice the poverty line (which in 2014 was $23,340 for a single individual and $31,460 for a family of two).

Worse, relying on customers’ tips to compensate for pathetically low wages intensifies the inherent power dynamic between food service workers and their customers, according to a 2014 study by the Restaurant Opportunities Center-United, a restaurant worker advocacy organization, and Forward Together, a racial justice policy organization. This leads to uncomfortable work environments for many workers, especially for women, who make up more than 70 percent of the nation’s servers and 60 percent of bartenders, and in particular women of color, who make up 40 percent of tipped workers. Almost two million women restaurant workers are mothers, and more than one million are single parents with children under 18.

Workers who rely on tips face high rates of sexual harassment and assault from coworkers and customers, much of which they feel forced to put up with because they need to please management to keep their jobs, and please customers to keep their tips. Service does not determine the size of a tip; rather, numerous factors related to gender, a pleasing appearance, and friendliness do.

“The difference for tipped employees versus other employees is that the responsibility for their guests has a direct outcome on their income,” said Miranda Kitterlin, assistant professor at the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University. Kitterlin has studied sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, and explains that it creates a power dynamic. “If I have to make my money from tips, I might not be so ready to walk away from unwanted sexual attention from a guest.”

Fighting for a Living Wage

New York’s decision to increase the subminimum wage was a compromise between labor advocates and business representatives, who vehemently opposed increasing the subminimum wage, said Meg Fosque, national policy director of Restaurant Opportunities Center-United, which campaigned the state’s labor board to eliminate the subminimum wage and move toward the minimum wage for such workers.

The struggle for a living wage will be substantial in the face of the restaurant lobby, one of the largest in the country. “It’s a lot easier for a paid lobbyist to be out there [pushing its position] than a restaurant worker with three jobs and a family to support,” said Fosque.

Indeed, industry representatives immediately spoke out against the New York increase, arguing it was too sudden for restaurants to accommodate without losing profit and would force establishments to close, fire workers, or pass the bulk of costs on to customers. However, such fears have proved unfounded. The greater wage does not result in perceptible increase in worker terminations. Small business owners generally prefer higher minimum wages, believing it improves employee retention, performance, and customer satisfaction. Businesses could pass costs on to customers, though at a rate customers may not discern; a minimum wage of $10.10 would result in an estimated 2.5 percent cost increase within three years. (The New York State Restaurant Association did not respond to inquiries for comment on this story.)

The Tipping System

Today’s rationale behind the nation’s subminimum wage policy is that tips make up for the shortfall of the lower wage, a far cry from its 19th-century aristocratic origins. But the wage has decreased in value by 40 percent since its implementation in 1991, thanks to inflation, and customers do not account for the shortfall: Today Americans tip less than ever, rarely leaving 20 percent. Seven states, including Hawaii, Minnesota, and Nevada, have eliminated the subminimum wage for tipped workers, raising their wages to the same minimum wage of all other workers. These workers still rely on tips, however, to supplement their income. For restaurants that pool tips, tips are reduced depending on the number of staff (though the system ensures every staff person takes home something).

“The whole tipping system is so arbitrary,” said Maia Buess, who has worked in coffee shops for ten years and relies on tips to flesh out her minimum wage earnings of $8.75 hour. (New York state will raise the minimum wage to $9.00 at the end of the year, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio argue is still too low for city workers.) Buess said that at a previous job, she and her coworkers would often negotiate so that the most attractive employee working that day was at the register and everyone would get more tips. “People don’t get tips because [workers] do a good job,” Buess said. “It’s a grab bag of how much you’ll get, on good days when people are in good moods. I’ve made the most beautiful drinks for people who don’t tip.”

Restaurant workers believe the pushback against higher wages partially lies in stigma against their labor: that it requires little skill, that workers are uneducated, and that only teenagers seek the work. But the majority of workers are older than 25, and a quarter are 40 or older. Nearly 40 percent have higher education degrees. Kimmie, who used to work in nonprofit management and public relations, said she often calls on those skills in her work. The job itself, as any server will say, does require experience and training. “It’s a skill,” said Meg Fosque of ROC-United. “Not every skill important for our society requires a four-year degree.”

Some advocates and workers are pushing not only to eliminate the subminimum wage in favor of a living wage, but to eliminate tipping altogether. Some restaurants have taken that step, including Restaurant Riki and Sushi Yahuda in New York City, Bar Marco in Pittsburgh, The Public Option in Washington, D.C., and chain restaurant Noodles & Co. in 38 states. California’s restaurant industry even has thrived without it. To offset the much higher wages, some of these establishments have raised meal prices, explaining to customers that service fees are included in these prices, while others have restructured their entire operating budgets to save on overhead and supplies.

Not only is begging for tips detrimental to workers, Fosque said, it’s unfair to restaurant customers to take on the burden of compensating workers for the shortfall in wages rather than restaurants, whose profit margins have continued to steadily grow. “Rather than have restaurant employers pay fair wages, it’s a pass-along cost to the customers—it’s a way of employing a free work force,” Fosque said. Customers have no legal obligation to pay a wage (by giving tips), so “the restaurant is not valuing the work that servers do, as opposed to a restaurant saying, ‘We’re going to give you a professional wage.’”

Additional Hurdles

Some restaurant workers warn against banning tipping altogether along with abolishing the subminimum wage. Kyle Marshall, a server based in Baltimore, is one of many tipped workers who supports the tipping system. He said he earned $85,000 one year while working as a server at a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. He could easily earn $60 for a two-person table, where the bill could reach $300. He believes these tips reflect the quality of his service, and pooling tips or banning tips encourages laziness in servers. But, he admits, the New York City dining scene offers many more lucrative options for employment. “If you were at Ruby Tuesday’s or [TGI] Friday’s, doing $5 [appetizers], you’re not going to make a whole lot. You have to be better at multitasking. It’s just a matter of figuring out where exactly you want to go.”

Indeed, many restaurant workers must settle for these less profitable restaurant jobs in other parts of the industry. The restaurant industry is booming, employing one in ten U.S. workers. But fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread are expanding the fastest, and workers at such establishments earn minimum wage but are generally not tipped at all. In these restaurants and casual restaurants, like Ruby Tuesday’s, a higher unified, living wage for restaurant workers would be especially critical, when tips cannot possibly make up the shortfall. This is increasingly important for women and women of color, who are the dominant servers in such restaurants nationwide, Fosque said. “They don’t earn as much in tips in those restaurants, so they have to work twice as hard.”

Even if more fine dining positions were available, certain workers might never be hired for them. Miranda Kitterlin of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management explains that all restaurants hire workers whom they believe their customers wish to see, banking on “aesthetic labor” to earn more money from customers. This results in all types of discrimination, including based on race, perceived sexual orientation, and attractiveness level. “Establishments just want to hire the people that attract their clientele either way, to make more money,” Kimmie said. “It’s all capitalism.”

The last major hurdle for tipped work advocates is that of sexual harassment, which undoubtedly thrives in the industry. Half of women, 47 percent of men, and 60 percent of transgender restaurant workers experience “scary” or “unwanted” sexual attention from customers, other servers, or management. This attention includes being harassed, receiving pressure for dates, and being touched or pinched. Increasing wages might empower them to turn a customer down or report these interactions to management, as the fear of a reduced tip would diminish.

Today, the majority of restaurant workers ignore these interactions to avoid the hassle for fear of losing a tip, having their hours reduced, or getting fired, according to the ROC-United and Forward Together study. Others who cannot handle it “select out” of the industry to find other jobs if they can, Kitterlin said: “In smaller cities, where there are so few employment opportunities, people don’t have the option to select out, and they have to work somewhere.”