Dear Councilman James Kenney,
I am a server at a busy restaurant in Center City Philadelphia,
and I am a volunteer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center. I want to thank you for supporting Philadelphia’s restaurant workers by sponsoring the Gratuity Protection Bill in 2011. I attended the “Behind the Kitchen Door” summit meeting at Tequila’s last October, and I was very inspired by your speech about protecting wages and the need for immigration reform in Pennsylvania. I know that you have worked in the restaurant industry in the past and witnessed the many injustices these workers face on a daily basis. This is why I was shocked that you voted against paid sick days at the city council meeting last month. I attended both the city council meeting on March 14 and the March 5 regarding the bill, and I was disheartened by your response to the testimony presented by Rosemary Devine, a restaurant worker. You argued against the bill claiming that if servers only make $2.83 an hour, it would not be worth it for them to take a paid sick day. I want to make it clear that in this bill it requires that employers pay tipped workers $7.25 per hour for an earned sick day. For instance, if a worker is scheduled for an eight hour shift he or she would earn roughly $58 for that sick day. This will most likely be less than he or she would have made if he or she were able to attend work and earn tips, but it can make a huge difference for low-income workers who struggle to afford rent and groceries each month.
I did not email you just to correct you about this misunderstanding. I am contacting you today to speak on behalf of tens of thousands of workers in Philadelphia who have no voice and fear to speak out because of retaliation. Many of these workers are people of color who work in the back of the house for extremely long hours under harsh conditions. I would like to tell you a little about some of the people I work with at a very successful, fine-dining restaurant:
Rita is a server. She is 27 years old and has worked at this restaurant for almost seven years. She works six days a week and roughly 57 hours per week. I have seen her work with the flu, cold, and stomach viruses many times. During my year and a half working with her I have only seen her take one day off. She works day after day to support herself, her aunt, and her younger sister who attends community college.
Bob is a cook. He works 7 days a week and roughly 70 hours per week. I’ve seen him work with severe cuts and burns. Most of the money he earns is sent to his family in Indonesia.
Salvador is a dishwasher. He works 7 days a week and roughly 70 hours per week. He used to work as a kindergarten teacher in Mexico, but he moved to Philadelphia so he could earn more money to support his family. One day he came to work very sick. He was pale and shaking, but he continued to wash dishes throughout the day and refused to go home. He only stopped occasionally to vomit.
Billy has worked every day for the past three years. He is a prep cook, and he is 25 years old. In the mornings he reports to his first job at 6:30 am where he preps for lunch. In the evenings he reports at 6:30 pm to the restaurant where I work, and he continues to work until 10:30 pm – 12:00 am depending on when we close. Most of the money he earns is sent to his family in Mexico.
Paid sick days are essential for people like Rita, Bob, Salvador, and Billy, and for the thousands of hard workers in this city who cannot afford to take a day off. When they are ill they cannot simply swap shifts with someone, because there is no one to swap with when all of your back of the house coworkers are there nearly every day. These workers deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. I am asking you, on behalf of these workers, to change your mind about sick days. I am asking you to do the right thing and stand up to Mayor Nutter and big business.