New York: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress, waited tables at a restaurant here to raise awareness for Democrats’ fight to increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“I’ve always got my backup job,” the 29-year-old New York Democrat and former bartender joked to patrons on Friday while ringing up pizza orders and mixing cocktails at the restaurant in New York’s borough of Queens. “I’ve still got it.”
Ocasio-Cortez is a co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would bump the federal minimum hourly wage to $15 for all workers — up from the current $7.25 hourly rate, which hasn’t been raised since 2009.
Speaking to the crowd, Ocasio-Cortez described both the opportunities and difficulties posed by the restaurant industry, drawing from her own experience.
“My first job, when I was about 16 years old, was as a hostess at an Irish pub,” she said, adding that “my hostessing job paid for my train tickets to come down to Manhattan so I could work and study in science labs and enter science competitions in high school”.
Ocasio-Cortez described how she worked in the restaurant for four years including after college in search of a stable job, pointing to the low wages as a factor in the exploitation and harassment that she said were rampant in the restaurant industry.
“Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job, it is indentured servitude,” she said, referencing the current minimum hourly wage for tipped workers. “All labour has dignity, and the way that we give labour dignity is by paying people the respect and value that they are worth at minimum.”
The young Congresswoman represents New York’s 14th District.
The freshman Democrat took office in January after running an efficient grassroots campaign in the party primary where she unseated former Representative Joe Crowley, who was the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House and a 10-term congressman in New York.