Show me a woman who works in the service industry and doesn't have horror stories about being treated like crap by her male employers/coworkers/customers and I'll show you my winning Powerball jackpot ticket. Is it surprising that three former servers who used to work at La Fogata, a Mexican restaurant and bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn, are suing their ex-employers for failing to pay them minimum wage, illegally deducting money from their paychecks, and forcing them to entice male customers to buy them ridiculously overpriced drinks and shots on a paltry commission? Sadly, it's more surprising (and inspiring) that these young women are actually doing something about it.
But thank god they are, on behalf of servers like them everywhere who can't speak out because, if they do, they won't be able to pay their rent or even stay in the country. (Many servers at La Fogata are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, according to the New York Daily News.)
The hazards of working at a late-night spot like La Fogata run the gamut from wage theft to sexual harassment to health problems from being forced to get wasted every night so the restaurant can turn a profit. Here's what the women had to do at this restaurant:
The more they drink, the more they earn. Customers buy the waitresses - who are largely undocumented immigrants from Mexico or Central America - drinks at inflated prices, and the women collect cash for every $20 tequila shot or $16 large bottle of Corona they down. [Ed. note: $20 tequila shots?! They deserve to be sued for that alone.]
At many places, the waitresses get a ticket for each drink customers buy for them. But at La Fogata, managers kept track and often shorted the women when they gave them an envelope of cash each Sunday, Sanchez said. The base pay for a night is $40 - but the waitresses say they were promised $8 for each drink customers bought them.
"We are the ones who are damaging our health with the drinks ...from 10 to 15 drinks a night," said Sanchez, 34, a single mom from Mexico.
According to the servers, their bosses also fined them $10 for "infractions" like spilling water or not showing up in a short enough skirt. Gross.
Predictably, an owner who wouldn't give his name told the NY Daily News that the women were lying and clearly liked working there because they stuck around. "If the job was so bad, why did they stay?" he asked.
Um, maybe because they thought they'd rather keep making money to support themselves and their families than embark on an uphill legal battle against manipulative assholes?
A few months ago, we reported on twenty-two former employees of Juventino (another Brooklyn restaurant) who waged a social media campaign against the owner for similar behavior: systemic sexual harassment, underpaying servers, the same old deal. Some of them said that part of the reason they were speaking out so publicly was to help other servers realize they didn't have to put up with this type of bullshit, even though it happens everywhere. Hopefully more and more servers will continue calling out their bosses, until one day women won't have to convince strangers to buy them drinks to make a decent living.
Image via sima/Shutterstock.