The COVID-19 pandemic has upended expectations and lives for Michigan’s service workers.
In the past few decades, the restaurant industry has become the fastest-growing private sector in the nation, employing around 13 million people before the COVID-19 epidemic. The industry also has the lowest paying minimum wage in many states, including Michigan, where service industry workers make $3.67/hour without tips, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Workers “were denied [unemployment benefits] by [Michigan] because they earned too little to qualify for benefits.” — Saru Jayaraman, One Fair Wage
Saru Jayaraman leads the national advocacy non-profit One Fair Wage, which has been pushing to change the way service industry workers are paid.
When the pandemic hit, tipped workers in states like Michigan suffered even more than those in states with a higher minimum wage, Jayaraman says.
“A majority of them were denied [unemployment benefits] by their states [including Michigan],” she says “because they earned too little to qualify for benefits.”
The federal CARES Act, which expires this month, was one of the few ways tipped workers were able to receive benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jayaraman says.