The balancing act plays out every day in restaurants across America: Servers who rely on tips decide where to draw the line when a customer goes too far.
They ignore comments about their bodies, laugh off proposals for dates and deflect behavior that makes them uncomfortable or angry — all in pursuit of the $2 or $20 tip that will help buy groceries or pay the rent.
There was the young server at a burger joint in Georgia, Emmallie Heard, whose customer held her tip money in his hand and said, “So you gonna give me your number?” She wrote it down, but changed one of the digits.
There was the waitress in Portland, Ore., Whitney Edmunds, who swallowed her anger when a man patted his lap and beckoned her to sit, saying, “I’m a great tipper.”
And at a steakhouse in Gonzales, La., Jaime Brittain stammered and walked away when a group of men offered a $30 tip if she’d answer a question about her pubic hair. She returned and provided a “snappy answer” that earned her the tip, but acknowledges having mixed feelings about the episode.
“Literally every time it happens, I will have this inner monologue with myself: ‘Is this worth saying something, or is it not?’” said Ashley Maina-Lowe, a longtime server and bartender in Tucson. “Most of the time I say, ‘No, it’s not worth it.’”
The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday overturned a key Obama-era precedent that had given workers significant leverage in challenging companies like fast-food and hotel chains over labor practices.
The ruling changes the standard for holding a company responsible for labor law violations that occur at another company, like a contractor or franchisee, with which it has a relationship.
The doctrine also governs whether such a corporation would have to bargain with workers at a franchise if they unionized, or whether only the owners of the franchise would have to do so.
While most labor law experts expected the labor board, which gained a Republican majority only in late September, to overturn the board’s so-called joint-employer decision from 2015, the speed of the change came as a surprise to many.
“Frankly, it’s shocking,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a former Democratic appointee on the board who once served as its chairwoman.
The board’s 3-to-2 vote, along party lines, restores the pre-2015 standard, which deemed a fast-food corporation a joint employer only if it exercised direct and immediate control over workers at the franchise, and in a way that was not limited.
Employer groups had been agitating to undo the standard that was set under President Barack Obama almost from the moment it was decided, and they applauded the decision on Thursday.
The key question in determining whether a company, like a fast-food corporation, is a joint employer of workers employed by another company, like one of the chain’s franchisees, is the degree of control exercised by the corporation over workers at the franchise. The ruling on Thursday declared that such control must be direct.
Under the Obama-era doctrine, the fast-food corporation could be held liable for labor violations that occurred at the franchise even if the control it exerted was indirect — for example, if it required the franchisee to use software dictating certain scheduling practices — or if it had the right to exercise control over workers that it nonetheless didn’t exercise.
The reversal could have important implications for the ability of workers to win concessions from employers through collective bargaining. In many cases, a contractor or franchisee has such low profit margins that it could not afford to raise wages or improve benefits even if it wanted to.
Andrea Gillette lined up the bottles of fruit-flavored cocktails behind the bar. The guy who leans a ladder against the big chalkboard to write out the day’s fresh fish selection had just about wrapped up.
Floors were swept, sliced lemons were crammed into a plastic bin, the trendy garage-door-style windows facing the shaded patio thrown open. Corey Ahrens brewed coffee.
Chip Kasper, the general manager, called out to the weekday crew at Fish City Grill, a bright, modern seafood restaurant at CityLine, a massive, $1.5bndevelopment 20 miles north of downtown Dallas. Anchored by an almost 10,000-worker State Farm campus, CityLine also features a crop of buzzy fast-casual spots, a Whole Foods Market and a salon offering eyelash extension packages for upwards of $300.
It’s one of a handful of projects that have shifted the economic center of gravity of the nation’s fourth largest metro area; as a result, the northern suburbs of Dallas are some of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
“Got nine minutes to pre-shift!”
A little over a year ago, Fish City’s owner was worried this wasn’t going to happen.
In the roughly two decades since Bill Bayne and a partner opened Half Shells – the seed of what would become a chain of 20 restaurants – Bayne said he and his wife, who now own the Fish City company, have made a point to remember the names of workers at every level.
He takes pride in his ability to retain workers in an industry that sees high turnover. Still, as he prepared to open the chain’s outpost at CityLine he encountered an unanticipated hurdle.
He couldn’t find workers.
Bayne recalled sending his longtime kitchen manager, Frankie Argote, to “ride the rails” in search of people who looked like they might be cooks and to restaurants, where he asked managers whether they had employees who might be able to pick up more shifts. Argote recalled coming back and asking his boss, “Do we want to be cooking or serving?” Because he was struggling to find enough people to do both.
“This [location] has been probably the most challenging,” Bayne said.
As major corporate employers have swarmed places such as CityLine and the areas that surround them, a corresponding explosion of restaurants and bars has left business owners such as Bayne tapping into an almost-dry well of talent. Over the last five years, the number of jobs in food services and drinking places in the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division increased by 30.4%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s almost twice as fast as growth in those jobs nationally, which was 17.9% for the same time period.
But thanks to a range of factors, the fertile job-hunting fields north of Dallas are essentially off limits to many prospective workers.