With pandemic capacity limits in place, restaurant workers, who rely on tips, voice support for $15 minimum wage

On Tuesday, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025, with further increases based off median wage growth.

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"$7.25 to $15. That's a huge difference," said Sara Fearrington, a server at a Triangle Waffle House who makes $3.10/hour plus tips.

Fearrington is part of the group NC Raise Up, which is pushing for a $15 minimum wage and union rights.

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"Tipped workers need that. We shouldn't have to sit here and have someone tip us off of our personality instead of what an understanding of what a true work ethic is or what a server has to physically go through, mentally go through a shift just to wonder what we may bring home," said Fearrington.

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about an across-the-board increase, citing existing financial difficulties presented by the pandemic.

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"There is a legitimate argument and challenges around $15 minimum wage broadly and that's just because where we are currently with the state of the overall economy," said Dr. Henry McKoy, the Director of Entrepreneurship at NC Central.

President Biden and Democrats are also supporting providing $1,400 in supplemental stimulus relief, coinciding with recently dispersed $600 checks.

"It's tremendously important. $600 is not nearly enough, $2,000 is not nearly enough," McKoy said.

Fearrington has children at home learning remotely, putting her in a difficult place in balancing work obligations and providing in-person support and guidance.

"If I stay home too much, that means what - they don't have all their needs. As a parent, I'm always going to sacrifice everything about myself for my kids," she said.

Restaurants have also faced strict capacity limits and customers hesitant to return to in-person dining, making it more difficult for tipped workers to increase their earnings.

"We're still in the pandemic. I actually just recovered from COVID myself, and I've been out of work for a month," said Fearrington.

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She said the extension of the federal eviction moratorium has provided some peace of mind.

McKoy explained many inequities have been exacerbated, but not caused, by the pandemic.

"Folks are continuing to fall behind in their bills and their payments and their mortgages, their rents, their car notes. All these kinds of things that come to you at one time. This is really is a crisis of incredible proportion," McKoy said.

Last week, President Biden signed an executive order to begin the process of requiring federal contractors pay employees $15 an hour.

The minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25 an hour.
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