UnderCover Waitress: To Whom Shall I Complain?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Whom Shall I Complain?

Did I tell this, who would believe me?

Those are the words of Shakespeare's Isabella in Measure for Measure, Act II Scene iv.

Her brother has been sentenced to death by the judge, Angelo. Angelo tells Isabella that if she has sex with him, he will let her brother live. Because of Angelo's status, Isabella knows that if she complains, she will not be believed.

Waitresses, on the other hand, are not so much worried about being believed as they are finding a listening ear that cares. The fact that waitresses have trouble making a living is not news, but if she complains, she is told her tips are down because she is a bad waitress. Then, she finds she has no job and is worse off than before. 

The rich and powerful often seem not to care about poor wages, lack of benefits, and long work hours. 

Labor unions are one answer to the problems labor faces, albeit an unperfect one. As almost all waitresses have no union, it is a moot point. 

This Ask the Waitress! query was sent my way recently:

hello i am a server/waitress, you already know we don't have benefits, and that it is very hard work dealing with costumers, being the face of a place in which the employer doesn't really care about you as a person.

Of course, we have a choice to leave and look for something else. But my question is to whom we should complain, who regulates the wage and the conditions under which we work?
maybe we can make a change if we know to whom we should complain.
thank you

Not long ago I received a query about how to handle waitress shenanigans, for example, what to do if another waitress is stealing your tables. In that case, I said that discussing the workplace policies and procedures with a manager was an employee's best bet and the first thing she should do.

This question is different:

* Who sets wages? To whom shall I complain to get a larger wage for workers?

* Who makes rules about working conditions? To whom shall I complain if I want
     a lunch break
     a rest break
     overtime pay based on hours worked per day
     sick pay and vacation pay
     benefits, such as health care.

* To whom shall I complain in order to change things for the better?

Minimum Wage

Wage rules and regulations that affect workers are made by state governments and the federal government. This is why it is so important that people pay attention to politics, and especially how different types of policies have affected Americans over the years.

The Department of Labor (DOL) is a federal office that regulates and specifies the minimum that workers are entitled to receive in return for their employment. The DOL's Fair Labor Standard's Act (FLSA)establishes rules regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor.

One of the things that President Obama wanted to do for Americans was raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011. Before you start faulting him for failing, look at how and why this plan failed. Republicans fought it and kept it from happening. The American people filled the house with not just Republicans, but some states filled seats with the most radical of so-called conservatives, Tea Party members.

If you wish to raise the minimum wage (including the tipped employee minimum wage,) then you must consider the two party platforms when you go to vote. The conservative agenda is tell business owners they can do whatever it is they need to do to stay in business. The liberal agenda believes that it is the role of the government to mandate and regulate how society operates, including businesses (and the banking industry.) 

Complaining directly to the DOL will get you nowhere. Every state has elected leaders that represent the people in that state. You may complain directly to your state representatives. Every senator and congressman (or woman) should have a website by now that gives information on how to contact them, such as emails and phone numbers.

However, if you live in a state that is represented by someone who believes in unregulated Capitalism, your complaints may fall on deaf ears. The time to think about issues that affect you and your neighbors is in the voting booth.

Health Insurance

The DOL's FLSA leaves the decision up to employers ofwhether or not to offer health insurance to employees. If you wish for the government to get involved in making health care available to more people, that is exactly what President Obama is trying to do. Mitt Romney said flat out, at the end of his extremely fluffy speech at the convention, that he would repeal "Obamacare." (It was one of the few concrete things he said.) 

So, if you want access to the benefit of health care, you may complain to your state representatives, and think about health care when you go to vote.


I wrote about the lack of federal regulation of breaks in Rest Breaks, Meal Breaks, Smoke Breaks. Some states have enacted additional rules on top of the federal rules (or lack thereof.) In California, if you are denied a ten minute paid break for every four hours of work, you complain first to your manager, and then, if necessary, to your lawyer.

In some states, however, there are no additional rules about allowing employees to take a break. On the federal level, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted the sanitation standard in (get this) 1998. Not 1898, 1998. Less than fifteen years before the date of this blog post. The sanitation standard states, in part

The sanitation standard is intended to ensure that employers provide employees with sanitary and available toilet facilities, so that employees will not suffer the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them.

Make note that there is still no regulation regarding how many hours an employee may be expected to work without the opportunity to void. 

To whom shall you complain about the need for breaks?

You may start, once again, with government representatives. You may choose to go directly to the state level, or contact a more local politician such as a mayor or governor. You may consider starting a petition and getting as many workers to sign it as you can. 

Lobbying is extremely hard work, and much more complicated than just drafting a petition. I don't want to sound like some ehow article, "How to Create World Peace."

However, if you want to change the rules and regulations that determine how businesses must behave, then you must vote for pro-labor politicians. (Right now, that means Democrats.) Write your state representatives about what your concerns are, and lobby for what you want if you can. Your employer only has to treat you as well as the law requires. 

Thanks for Asking the Waitress! 


  1. Well said, I hope more people will read and understand how politics really effects our day to day life.

    1. Thank you. If I may be so bold, I will ask you to please share this post. I often perceive that people simply stick to their pre-conceived notions of who they should vote for, and fail to look at current issues, look at current evidence, and open their minds. That, however, does not stop me from talking. :)

    2. Although it is easy to spend other people's money, it will run out eventually, that being said, I have worked and am currently working two jobs so I will have insurance.
      In that time I have witnessed many people only working the bare minimum, smoking, drinking, nails done ( for females) hair done, tattoo's, money for drugs, and going to clubs or bars.
      There are many people who do not wish to pay for others not making the better choice.
      If you can't balance your own budget, why would I want or intrust you to mine? I wouldn't. Less government, less spending, and more responsibility for your own actions.
      Anything worth having is worth working for, and worth making the proper choice, if you work more you are getting a penalty, if you are getting welfare when do you pay tax?
      Why can't the government stop people using EBT cards for liquor, smokes, drugs, or anything else for that matter unrelated to food?
      Even if I was starving I couldn't get food stamps or anything else for that matter because I have a mortgage albeit not a mansion, and was never living above my means, but anyone with a pulse got loans backed by Fanny and Freddy, not qualified for 100,000.00 let alone 200,000.00 and 300,000.00.
      Having to inspect these housing developments knowing they don't have insurance on their property, or pay their association dues. Why did I bring this example up, well why and how did they get approved in droves with "no doc loans", and why is everyone else taking it on the chin?
      When you buy into a subdivision you have to pay the association fee's because it works on a zero balance at the end of the year, so when someone does not pay the balance is in the negative, which means everyone else needs to pick up the slack, that is not how a budget should work.
      The government, or the democrats are not getting a budget together and charging more tax, (example) three plus percent sales tax on any house sold $3,800.00 per 100,000. No taxes if you don't earn more than 250,000.00, how is this true? How is Obama care getting ramped up and funded?
      I know he got into Harvard, but if that is such an achievement why hasn't he produced his transcripts, put up or shut up, or drop it. But all this talk is digging us a deeper whole, and I'm sorry but what is actually on the record is only a huge bill, and is only getting bigger by the second.
      He has had his way for too long now, and Reagan turned it around in the 80's, proven method, but if your a democrat, I guess it's better to put the entire over a barrel instead of on top, because it was a republican solution.
      I wish his talk was cheap, but it is costing us a fortune, in addition to everything else. You have your opinion, and I must say I do not, and will not agree with your opinion in relation to these subjects.
      I respect your work, however I will never be silent, because as long as it is still legal to have opinion, this will be mine!

  2. Speaking from outside the country, I can only say that the Republican party has gone completely insane, particularly in the last few years.

    While I'm not a union sort of person, I do think that business and unions need each other- to keep each other in check.

    1. Yeah, I know a couple of people who have experience representing unions or labor. It does seem that sometimes the union itself gets so big and cumbersome that it becomes unhelpful or even worse, it can make things harder on some union members.

      Personally, I think unions are a great idea, but like anything, unionization can be done well or done poorly.


Please share your thoughts.