Why our allies need to support the Raise the Wage Act

Irene Li
5 min readApr 6, 2021

To our restaurant community,

We’re a group of Asian American women who own businesses in the restaurant industry, and we’re taking this moment of heightened awareness of inequality to ask for your help. We need your support.

At the beginning summer of 2020, we had hope that our industry and our country were finally becoming committed to building a more equitable future for us all. We hoped we would find allies, accomplices and partners in the work of justice and transformation. People were buying anti-racist books more than ever and posting about racial equality on their social media accounts. Surely this would lead to concrete change.

We are writing to you because it hasn’t — and because we need you, as allies, to do more than signal your support for Black and brown lives on your Instagram accounts and in your store windows. We need fundraisers for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations. But, we need more, we need you to act — and lead.

In our industry, the key place to start is to end the subminimum wage for restaurant workers nationwide, who are disproportionately Black and brown women.

If you care about women of color, you will support the Raise the Wage Act and fight as hard for it as you did for the Restaurants Act.

Truly believing in equality means seeing our fates as linked — that we cannot have justice and opportunity for restaurant owners without justice and opportunity for restaurant workers. And a healthy, whole America needs us all.

Seventy percent of tipped workers are women, and most are not in the fine dining restaurants where high check averages and tips are more common. Rather, they work in casual environments — your favorite Thai place, your go-to dim sum spot, or that one taco truck that does the best carne asada. Some of these women live in states where they are paid a base wage of $2.13 per hour. Often that income goes entirely to cover their taxes, meaning they take home zero dollars from their employers.

From AmericanProgress.org

It should be no surprise then, that tipped restaurant workers use food stamps at twice the rate of any other sector and experience three times the poverty rate as the rest of the US workforce. Nor should it be a shock that the workers who are working full time and receiving government subsidies are disproportionately workers of color and women.

On top of that, women of color have to deal with how American society has hypersexualized them, forcing them to endure sexual harassment from customers in order to not risk losing a tip. Imagine the horrific situations they find themselves in to feed their families — not because of a single thing they have done, but because they simply do not make enough from their wages. Indeed, studies have shown that women restaurant workers paid the subminimum wage experience twice the rates of sexual harassment as women restaurant workers in states that pay One Fair Wage with tips on top.

From AmericanProgress.org

To be an ally, you must act. Supporting a livable minimum wage is an example of a real, substantive step that all restaurants should support, which would truly demonstrate a commitment to women, to the AAPI community, and to working people everywhere. It is a real, concrete step towards addressing the root of systemic racism and misogyny. Click here to contact your Congresspeople and urge them to support the Raise the Wage Act. You can fight for justice by fighting as hard for restaurant workers as you fight for your own restaurant. Or, you can be just another bystander who remains silent and closes the door on us.

Believe us, we see who is ready to make real change, and who is not. We see that you are willing to give your time, energy, resources, and lobbying efforts to support your restaurants, but not our workers. We are restaurant owners and we will continue to fight to save restaurants, but as a community we cannot continue to support a system that oppresses our workers.

Restaurants need to commit to breaking this harmful system that only benefits the corporations and their pockets. Not to mention they, the most vocal opponents of the Raise the Wage Act, are the giant corporations whose anti-worker, anti-independent restaurant agenda hurt us all.

In addition to supporting the Raise the Wage Act, we are all members of RAISE High Road Restaurants and we’d encourage you to join us. We offer resources, peer to peer conversations, and have a free race and gender equity program to help you begin your journey in transforming your company. We can work together to lobby your representatives so they know that business owners care about not just our workers, but ALL workers in our sector.

We understand it can feel easy to post on Facebook, and more intimidating to truly throw your heart and muscle behind policy change. But, we don’t want to see another instagram post that says you stand in solidarity with us and are working on educating yourself. You’ve had since George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor and too many Black people were murdered by the police. You’ve had a year to learn why racists are killing and harming Asians and Asian Americans. You’ve had years to care about children being locked in cages at our border.

While we cannot stop police brutality or violence due to xenophobia, we can recognize that all issues of human dignity are linked. And, in our industry, we can stop violence against women in restaurants and lift millions of workers out of poverty. Let’s give people back their sense of dignity and remind the country that there is honor in labor. This is what we, as AAPI female-identified restaurant owners, are calling on you to do. If you are in the restaurant sector and you care about our lives, you need to publicly come out, advocate, and support the Raise the Wage Act. Full stop. Period. No one is free until we all are free.

In solidarity with our Black, Brown, and Indigenous family, we invite you to join us on the right side of history.

Alison Fong, Bon Me

Beverly Kim, Parachute and Wherewithall

Chera Amlag, Hood Famous Bakeshop

Claire Sprouse, Hunky Dory

Debra Russell, Eve

Evy Chen, Evy Tea

Irene Li, Mei Mei

Rumi Ohnui, Moshi Moshi Sushi & Izakaya

Vimala Rajendran, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe

Yuka Ioroi, Cassava