By the age of 30 in 2012, I have already built a 15 year career in the restaurant industry. Hospitality runs in my family, so working with people, food and beverage has always been a passion of mine. Additionally, both of my parents are Marines; hard work, discipline, and pride for one's country are values that were instilled upon me from birth.
As a young adult, I did everything I was supposed to do to set myself up for success to earn the American Dream - made straight A's; led extra-curricular activities like student government, cheerleading, and language club; didn't do drugs or mess around with boys; got scholarships to attend my dream university to study canonical and African American literature; and I worked, worked, worked.
All throughout high school, college, and in my adulthood I have worked in mom and pop casual restaurants to the finest of fine dining establishments as a host, server, bartender, and manager. I opened several restaurants, created cocktail menus, trained other employees, built repeat clientele business and sales, and aggressively kept abreast of consumer trends and food and alcohol innovations, and so on.
Despite my passion, proven experience, and great relationships within the restaurant industry, it is with a heavy and troubled heart that I say my career has been plagued by poverty wages, fluctuating tips, nonexistent benefits, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and constant sexual harassment.
What kind of wage is $2.13/hr when my tips fluctuate daily depending on arbitrary forces like the weather? Over 70% of restaurant servers are women - earning the tipped subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour since 1991. Are women servers like myself worth only $2.13? Am I valued if I'm forced to serve food or make cocktails while I'm sick with conjunctivitis because of the fear of being fired or not having enough money to juggle my rent, phone, food, and college loan bills? And what happens to my spirit when a manager, consumer, or co-worker comes on to me in a sexual way or violates my physical space? What happens to my American Dream when I'm told I can't be promoted because I don't match the look of the rest of the pretty white blonde bartenders?
My name is Nikki Lewis and I am a proud Black American woman but I am tired! I am tired on behalf of all women servers, new Americans, and people of color who's spirits are crushed by being discriminated against, stolen from, harassed, and verbally abused on a daily basis because we don't have the "right" look, the "right accent," the "right" skin tone, or come from the "right" communities.
We don't have to eat this injustice anymore as workers, managers, consumers, and friends. The restaurant industry is the largest and fastest growing private sector employer in the nation that boasts about it's exponential profits and growth. Isn't it time, in 2012, that they start boasting about what great quality jobs they can afford to offer to help us working Americans and strengthen our economy? I know it's time - help us RAISE $2.13 and FIGHT GENDER DISCRIMINATION.