Nataki Rhodes, who works at a high-end restaurant in Chicago, has been employed in the restaurant industry for a decade, and in that time she's put up with a lot of mistreatment. A 42-year-old single mother, Rhodes earns $4.95 an hour as a server, plus whatever she gets in tips. What exactly her patrons think they're paying for is another question.
"I'm serving this table, and some guys, they'll brush up against my breast as they passing by, and then it's, 'Oh, excuse me!' " she says. "Then they come back and brush up against my butt." One time Rhodes—who is not, by her own account, a diminutive woman—was ordered to squeeze between two men standing side by side to get to her table.
For the most part, Rhodes simply puts up with it, like fruit flies in summer. "Yeah I'm gonna let someone feel on my butt so I can get $50," says Rhodes, adding that she needs the tip money to help get her son through school. "I don't care what nobody say." She was hired in large part for her looks and relatively light-colored skin, she said, and it's not as if her manager would intervene on her behalf.
More than one-third of women who have worked as tipped workers cite sexual harassment as the reason they quit their jobs, according to a report released Tuesday by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a nonprofit that works to improve wages and working conditions for low-wage restaurant workers. What's more, report authors say harassment is significantly worse in states where workers rely more heavily on tips, indicating that the overall work environment is at least partially shaped by the sub-minimum wage system itself.