Jane Fonda: It's "Horrific" That Women Only Get Paid $2.13 an Hour in This Industry

Taylor Cromwell

Lifelong activist Jane Fonda is pushing to end sexual harassment with one solution: fighting for better wages for tipped workers.

The restaurant industry is the largest and fastest growing work in the United States and women make up 70% of the workforce. It's also an industry where sexual harassment runs rampant.

One big reason for that? The current federally mandated wage for tipped workers is only $2.13—and that hasn't changed since 1991.

"Waitresses are very vulnerable to whatever the customer wants to say or do to her or him," Fonda said, speaking at a One Fair Wage event in New York City on Thursday. "It's horrific what happens to these women."

In this scenario, "the customer is always right," added Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United). As a result, unwelcome advances and verbal abuse is endured by tipped workers because "the customer pays your bills, not your employer."

In 2016, shortly after the election, Fonda teamed up with ROC United to find out how she could get involved. Led by Jayaraman, the organization has led the way in advocating for One Fair Wage, meaning tipped workers earn the federal minimum wage $7.25 in addition to tips.

Their work has changed laws in seven states—California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Montana and Alaska—and as a result, reports of sexual harassment incidents have already been cut in half.

"When you pay a woman an actual wage, she doesn't have to tolerate all kinds of inappropriate customer behavior to feed her family," Jayaraman told MAKERS. "What we're doing here is not just about getting people a full wage. It's about increasing the power and voice of working people and their participation in our economy."

Fonda and Jayaraman say this is a simple, practical push for change that can help end harassment following the #MeToo and Time's Up wave.

"If these 7 states can do it, every state can do it," Jayaraman said. "It's an example for other industries how it's a symptom of an underlying issue of lack of power, lack of voice and pay equity on the job."

Next, Jayaraman and Fonda will join Taraji P. Henson and Patrisse Cullors in Michigan to get out the vote in the final weeks before the election.

"It's the most important election that I have ever been through," Fonda said. "We have to change this."

To learn more about One Fair Wage click here.