AOC calls minimum wage ‘indentured service’ as she returns to old job behind bar

‘Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job’, congresswoman tells crowd as she serves drinks

Alessio Perrone
Saturday 01 June 2019 17:12
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AOC returns to old job behind bar as she campaigns for a minimum wage raise

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez returned to her old job behind the bar to promote increased wages for restaurant servers and other tipped workers.

The New York politician, famously worked as a bartender before being elected to US Congress last year, took lunch orders, served pizza and cocktails at the Queens restaurant where she used to work.

“Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job,” she told restaurant workers, customers and reporters at The Queensboro restaurant in her New York City district, referring to the lowest possible wage before tips.

“It’s indentured servitude. All labour has dignity and the way that we give labour dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth... We have to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

Taking to Twitter after her stint behind the bar, she wrote: “I was nervous that I may have lost my touch - still got it! That muscle memory doesn’t quit."

Ms Ocasio-Cortez was campaigning for the Raise the Wage Act 2019, a bill introduced by members of her Democratic Party in January which would prevent tipped workers from being paid less than the federal minimum wage.

US law exempts restaurants, nail salons and car washes from paying their tipped staff the minimum wage of $7.25 (£5.93) per hour. It has not risen from that rate since 2009.

Instead they are allowed to pay just $2.13 per hour. Employers in 43 US states, including New York, are allowed to pay workers below the federal minimum wage if they earn the full minimum wage counting tips.

The minimum wage in the UK is currently £6.15 for those aged 18 to 20, £7.70 for those aged 21 to 24 and £8.21 for anyone over 25.

The National Restaurant Association, a US industry lobbying group, has opposed the Raise the Wage Act, saying it would harm restaurants that typically rely on margins between 3 percent and 6 percent.

They claim the tip credit allows tipped employees to earn far more than the minimum wage.

The Raise the Wage Act would also increase the national minimum pay rate to $15 by 2024, and has more than 190 co-sponsors (all Democrats).

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said she worked in restaurants since she was 16, where she was forced to endure sexual harassment, such as inappropriate comments or touching from customers.

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When she was elected to Congress in 2018, she famously said she could not afford a house in Washington DC.

Twenty states raised their minimum wages at the outset of 2019, including California, New Jersey and Washington.

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