The goal of the event hosted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United was to promote the One Fair Wage Act, which aims to prevent tipped workers – like those in the restaurant industry – from being paid less than the federal minimum wage. According to the group’s website, tipped workers can be paid wages as low as $2.13 per hour – a rate it says hasn’t been changed since 1991.
The congresswoman spoke to a crowd during Friday's event, saying "any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job. It's indentured servitude."
She also got behind the bar and took some customers' orders.
New York is one of 43 states where two minimum wages are allowed to be set. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, though many states have higher rates. Connecticut, for example, passed a bill this week that will lift its hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2023.
The freshman lawmaker has been vocal about her past working as a bartender in New York City. She unseated 10-term congressman Rep. Joe Crowley last year in the Democratic primary. The restaurant where she worked is called Flats Fix, a taco and tequila bar. Ocasio-Cortez famously said that she couldn’t afford an apartment in Washington, D.C., after she was elected.
Meanwhile, raising the federal minimum wage for all workers has become a big issue – particularly among Democrats – in the run-up to the 2020 election. In January, members of the party introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would increase the national minimum pay rate to $15 by 2024 through scheduled annual increases. It has more than 180 co-sponsors, including support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who supports the bill, said a $15 minimum wage would increase pay for “more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce.”
Sanders, who launched a 2020 presidential bid, has called the current federal minimum wage – at $7.25 – a “starvation wage.” The senator has successfully campaigned to get big corporations – like Amazon – to raise employee pay to $15.
Twenty states raised their minimum wages at the outset of 2019, including California, New York and Washington.