Laura Flanders: This time last year, Eve and I were happy to have had a role in introducing Jane Fonda to Saru Jayaraman. Long story but suffice to say not long after that, Fonda began working with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, or ROC, in their campaign to end the low tipped wages that millions of restaurant workers, disproportionately women, receive. Last summer Jane and Lily Tomlin, her co-star in the Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, went to Detroit to canvass door to door for a ballot initiative that seeks not only to win a single fair minimum wage, but to help build a broad, progressive agenda in Michigan statewide.
Jane Fonda: Nationally 70% of tipped restaurant workers are women. In Michigan, it's 80%. A lot of restaurants, especially the wealthiest big chains, don't pay them a living wage. There's really no reason why the public should subsidize people who work for large chains.
Saru Jayaraman: What is it called when you don't get a wage from your employer?
Audience: Slave labor.
Saru Jayaraman: And actually this is an actual legacy of slavery.
Jane Fonda: So wealthy Americans who traveled to Europe and saw how the upper, upper, upper, upper echelons did it brought tipping back to this country and people were outraged in America. And they said, "There's no way we're going to do this," and refused to do it. And then after emancipation, they were persuaded to tip freed slaves since they were working for nothing. They had no hourly salary. They would pay them in tips.
Saru Jayaraman: So we are calling for one fair wage. If Minnesota can do it, so can Michigan. We are trying to collect 350,000 signatures to get on the ballot in November 2018. It will raise the wage to 12, and over a period of years, go from 3.38 for tipped workers to $12 an hour for everybody, tipped and non tipped, with tips on top. It is such a dream come true to have Jane and Lily with us here.
Jane Fonda: This is not the first time that Lily and I have been together calling attention to the problem of female workers. We did a movie called 9 to 5.
Laura Flanders: You grew up here.
Lily Tomlin: I did. I grew up here, absolutely.
Saru Jayaraman: And you were a waitress.
Lily Tomlin: I was a waitress many times.
Jane Fonda: You worked in a hospital once.
Lily Tomlin: I did. Yes. Thank you, I worked as a ... I worked as a tray girl.
Jane Fonda: Brought trays to patients?
Lily Tomlin: I did deliver trays to the patients and I would be beside myself trying to make sure that the hospital workers went and fed the patients, because so many of them just lie there fairly motionless. And, of course, nobody did. They'd be hiding in the broom closet having a smoke.
The sexual harassment in the restaurant industry is rampant. Restaurant workers are like 7% of the American population and 36 or 37% of sexual harassment cases are brought from the restaurant industry.
Saru Jayaraman: It's really the money, power and influence of a trade lobby that has for now over 100 years held sway over Congress, held sway over state legislature, held sway over all elected officials, Democrats and Republicans. They've just bought and sold our legislators and spread this incredible mythology that this can't be done. Workers can't be paid well. Women can't be treated well. It's just impossible. And we know it not to be true. Seven states have shown it is possible, including Minnesota next door. So there's no reason Michigan can't do it.
So that if those things happen, which they shouldn't, you still can take home some money, which you should do as a worker.
This has become way more urgent in the last few weeks. President Trump's Department of Labor has announced that they are going to change 80 years of law and put out a federal regulation that if any restaurant pays the full minimum wage, the employer can wholly steal legally the worker's tips. And so our ballot measure would not only call for one fair wage, it would also say in Michigan tips are absolutely the property of workers.
Jane Fonda: There's a lot of resistance going on and has been since last November and that's fantastic. But we have to go beyond no to the yes. What is the yes that will beckon us forward to a future that we can all share and embrace? And we have to learn to leave aside our differences and come together for a yes. And this is a long term effort, way beyond midterms, to try to break down the silos that exist, to try to bring people together, no matter what party they belong to, no matter who they voted for, across race and gender and age, et cetera, to say what kind of a state do we want?
Saru Jayaraman: We are moving a ballot measure for one fair wage, which in and of itself is groundbreaking. You know this would be the first large state after many, many years to join the seven states in eliminating a lower wage for tipped workers. But because it is such an important state after November, it's really exciting that we're using this process to actually build power for people in the state and listen to them. Because you know we do these ballot measures, which right now in this state of the world is the only way we can actually move progressive change because legislatures have been completely taken over. We move these ballot measures, we spend millions of dollars on them, we talk to hundreds of thousands of people, and then all of those contacts are just lost. And so the idea of using this process to actually engage hundreds of thousands of people in this parallel process called We the People, is really exciting and means that everything we're investing in this campaign is going to produce double the amount of money we're investing in it.
It's going to produce an amazing change for the state of Michigan and for the nation in terms of raising the wage and eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers, and it's going to create this incredible positive experience that we can replicate in a lot of other states.
Lily Tomlin: We want the people to be empowered to foster it for themselves. And they've got to have the dignity and support of having a decent job and earning decent wages, and that's what we're certainly hoping for.
Jane Fonda: Wouldn't it be great if every single person that owns a business understands what it means to earn a fair wage and not have to suffer like that? That's the kind of world we want.
Though this broad coalition that brings together across races, across class, people into this We the People campaign to create a people's platform that we will ask everyone to support. You know if people running for office don't support it, then we don't support them.
Laura Flanders: Grace and Frankie is kicking off its fourth season on Netflix right now. To find out more about ROC's campaign and see Fonda and Tomlin playing waitresses dealing with sexist customers in videos they made for ATTN, go to our website and sign up to become a supporter subscriber and thanks.