Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) is thrilled to announce the successful passage of a groundbreaking bill that eliminates the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in the city of Chicago. This significant achievement marks a major step in ensuring equitable pay for all workers, and makes Chicago the biggest U.S. city to independently abolish the sub-minimum wage.
Through strategic partnerships, grassroots organizing, and relentless advocacy efforts, WCRJ engaged with community leaders, service workers, high-road restaurant owners, and policymakers to build a broad coalition of support for this critical bill. Its passage is a testament to the dedication and perseverance of everyone involved in this transformative movement.
The sub-minimum wage is a legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow era that still endures to this day. After the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, employers resisted paying formerly enslaved Black workers by “hiring” them, but forcing them to work on gratuities alone. In the years that followed reconstruction, continuing anti-Black sentiment quashed various attempts to win fair pay for tipped workers: today, the federally mandated sub-minimum wage sits at $2.13/hour.
More than two-thirds of tipped workers are women, and disproportionately women of color. The sub-minimum wage forces women to endure harassment and abuse from customers in order to earn enough tips to survive, and its continued use systematically devalues women’s labor.
WCRJ member & leader, Kaileigh Reynolds, has worked in the service industry for over four years. She shares her experiences with the subminimum wage:
“Taking into consideration that I am the only black woman working at this River North [Chicago] establishment, the actions of my bosses and even some customers make me feel exploited. It forces me to sell my personality, my appearance, and my well-being… when my skirt is shorter my tips are higher, when my makeup is done there’s a few extra dollars on the line before people sign [their bills]. In the end, I’m working essentially to survive, not to live. I have to spend most days pulling double shifts that can often add up to 14 hours per day, for multiple days at a time.”
Recognizing the devastating impact that the sub-minimum wage has had for many of our members, Workers Center for Racial Justice, One Fair Wage, Our Revolution, Women Employed, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Fight for $15, Arise Chicago, SEIU Healthcare, and other partners embarked on a tireless campaign to advocate for the rights of tipped workers and eliminate this unfair wage structure.
Under the newly passed bill, Chicago’s current sub-minimum wage of $9.48 per hour will be phased out. It will gradually increase each year for five years, until it is equal to Chicago’s standard hourly minimum wage of $15.80. This legislation not only serves as a model for other cities but also sets a precedent for the state and the country, demonstrating that eliminating sub-minimum wage disparities is not only feasible but also necessary in creating a fair and equitable society.
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division shows that states where tipped workers are paid a higher wage have lower poverty rates than those paying a sub-minimum wage. Additionally, servers across all categories report higher earnings overall in states that have adopted One Fair Wage laws.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude and admiration for the dedicated individuals and organizations who worked on this policy, including One Fair Wage, Our Revolution, Women Employed, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Fight for $15, Arise Chicago, SEIU Healthcare, and the many tipped workers who gave their time and stories to this campaign.
We'd also like to thank the elected officials who championed this bill, especially Chicago Alderman Desmon Yancy and Mayor Brandon Johnson.
As we celebrate this significant milestone, the Workers Center for Racial Justice remains steadfast in our mission to advocate for fair labor practices that improve the lives of low-wage workers and end the exploitation of workers of color.
For myths and facts about laws eliminating the sub-minimum wage, see this fact sheet of research compiled by our partners at the One Fair Wage national organization.