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Peoria Defender

One Fair Wage: A Path to Economic Justice for Tipped Workers in Illinois

 As the sun sets over the Illinois heartland, a quiet revolution is brewing

—one that seeks to uplift the voices of tipped workers, empower small businesses, and create a fairer economic landscape. The movement for One Fair Wage has gained momentum across our state, and it’s time for Peoria to join the chorus. 


On May 6th

Nataki Rhodes, the national lead organizer and other representatives from the fight for One Fair Wage movement stopped through Peoria to speak with our community about demanding rights for tipped workers and giving them equal minimum wage as everyone else. 

The Movement was brought together by the Honorable Jessica Thomas at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on North St as part of their May Day Labor tour visiting all through central and southern Illinois. 


To greet participants there was an assortment of appetizers and refreshments leading into introductions and a viewing of the award winning film “Waging Change”, followed by a presentation from Nataki and a group discussion  and some planning where we found many of the attendees had worked in the service industry as tipped workers and were all to familiar with the struggles faced.  



I’ve never worked as a server or bartender but have many close friends who have and still do, I also worked alongside many of them DJing in various establishments in Chicago, so I was not unaware of the situation providing them with a substandard minimum wage due to an expectation of tips. 


But as I watched the documentary “Waging Change,” I was struck by the stark reality faced by tipped workers across the nation. The film, which sheds light on the plight of those earning a subminimum wage, is a call to action for all of us in Peoria and beyond. 

The Harsh Truth About Tipped Wages 

Tipped workers—servers, bartenders, bussers, and runners—have long toiled under an unjust system. Since 1991, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers has stagnated at a paltry $2.13 per hour. In Illinois, tipped workers currently earn a subminimum wage of $8.40 an hour, with tips expected to bridge the gap. However, this precarious arrangement leaves many struggling to make ends meet, juggling multiple jobs, and facing economic instability. The documentary “Waging Change” vividly portrays their challenges, emphasizing the urgent need for wage reform in the service industry. 


The Role of the National Restaurant Association 

The National Restaurant Association, often referred to as the “other NRA,” wields significant influence in Congress. Unfortunately, it consistently opposes wage increases for the industry, fighting against wage increases for the workers. This powerful lobby represents chain restaurants like Denny’s, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s, prioritizing profits over people. 


A Two-Tiered Wage System 

In the United States, we operate under a two-tiered wage system. Tipped workers receive a subminimum wage, with the expectation that their tips will bring them up to the full minimum wage. However, this system often fails to protect workers, leaving them vulnerable to wage theft and economic instability. 


The Pandemic’s Impact 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the fragility of the subminimum wage system. With restaurant closures and reduced capacity, tipped workers have faced unprecedented financial hardship. These unprecedented challenges underscore the urgent need for wage reform within the industry. 


The Fight for One Fair Wage 

Activists and lawmakers are pushing for “One Fair Wage,” a policy that would eliminate the subminimum wage and ensure that tipped workers receive the full minimum wage plus tips. This movement is gaining traction, with celebrities like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin lending their voices to the cause. 


The Chicago Victory: One Fair Wage Ordinance 

In 2023, Chicago took a bold step toward economic justice by passing the One Fair Wage Ordinance. Under this legislation, the subminimum wage for tipped workers will be phased out over a five-year period. By 2028, tipped workers in Chicago will earn the same standard hourly minimum wage as their non-tipped counterparts—currently $15.80 per hour. This victory was hard-fought, a testament to the tireless advocacy of restaurant workers, activists, and the One Fair Wage coalition. 


What Does One Fair Wage Mean for Peoria?

Peoria, our vibrant city along the Illinois River, stands at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to champion economic fairness and stand in solidarity with our tipped workers. The proposed One Fair Wage Act aims to eliminate the subminimum wage statewide, ensuring that no one in Peoria has to work for less than a living wage. Imagine a future where our servers and bartenders can focus on their craft without worrying about making ends meet. 


Critics argue that One Fair Wage will lead to increased dining prices. However, Nataki Rhodes, the national lead organizer for One Fair Wage, counters this by pointing out that prices have already risen due to inflation and other factors. The movement isn’t about destroying small businesses; it’s about creating a level playing field and ensuring dignity for all workers. We can find solutions that benefit both employees and employers. 


As a community,

We must stand in solidarity with tipped workers and advocate for a fair wage system. It’s time to end the legacy of subminimum wages and build a more equitable future for all workers. Let us join the fight for change and ensure that no one in Peoria, or anywhere else, has to work for less than a living wage.  


Jessica Thomas has helped to spearhead bringing the movement to Peoria and we are working together with her and others to build coalition and bring the fight to support Tipped workers in Peoria. There is a roundtable discussion being organized for a return visit of Nataki and the One Fair Wage Movement so follow us to stay informed. 



Let’s be the change we want to see. I invite you to join me in supporting One Fair Wage. Together, we can create a fairer Illinois—one where dignity, respect, and economic justice prevail. 


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