Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was back behind the bar and serving tables recently. Those inside the establishment erupted in cheers.
The New York Democrat, and former bartender, waited tables Friday afternoon to raise awareness for Democrats’ fight to increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“I’ve always got my backup job,” she joked to patrons while ringing up pizza orders and mixing cocktails at the restaurant in New York’s borough of Queens. “I’ve still got it!”
She later tweeted: “I was nervous that I may have lost my touch – still got it! That muscle memory doesn’t quit. Now let’s pass #RaiseTheWage and get $15 an hour minimum for every worker in America.
The tweet included a smiley face with a wink.
Ocasio-Cortez is a cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum hourly wage to $15 for all workers — up from the current $7.25 hourly rate, which hasn’t been raised since 2009.
Speaking to the crowd, the freshman democrat described both the opportunities and difficulties posed by the restaurant industry, drawing from her own experience.
“My first job, when I was about 16 years old, was as a hostess at an Irish pub,” she said, adding that “my hostessing job paid for my train tickets to come down to Manhattan so I could work and study in science labs and enter science competitions in high school.”
Ocasio-Cortez described how she worked in the restaurant for four years including after college in search of a stable job. She pointed to the low wages as a factor in the exploitation and harassment that she said were rampant in the restaurant industry.
“Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job, it is indentured servitude,” she said, referencing the current minimum hourly wage for tipped workers. “All labor has dignity, and the way that we give labor dignity is by paying people the respect and value that they are worth at minimum.”
Ocasio-Cortez argued that America must “live up to” the value of freedom by ensuring economic freedom through wage stability.
“We need to be paid a stable enough wage to reject sexual harassment, to say, ‘I’m not going to take that degrading shift,'” she said, adding, “We shouldn’t have to work 80-hour weeks so that our kids can have a meal at lunch — that’s not the way it should be.”
AOC pointed to a lack of understanding about who tipped workers are — not simply those in the food services industry.
“When we talk about tipped wages, people think of this industry, people think of bartenders and they think of waitresses and they’ll think about when they had that job back in the day and they made so much money during the summer.” she said. “But they don’t think about nail salon workers, they don’t think about car wash attendants. They don’t think about these people that, so many of us don’t even know, are depending on our tips, too.”