Restaurant industry workers organize to fund their own reproductive care

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This story was originally posted on Civil Eats.


Three years ago, Arielle Tess Edwards was living with her husband in Redding, California, caring for three children, including a breastfed baby, while working two low-wage service jobs. During the week of her 28th birthday, she learned she was unexpectedly pregnant.

She knew that a fourth child would stretch her family’s budget incredibly. “Because I couldn’t afford another child, I had to have an abortion,” Edwards said.

But getting an abortion proved difficult. Although there was a Planned Parenthood nearby, the clinic had stopped offering abortions due to threats it had received. Edwards could not find child care; she had to travel 320 miles round trip to Sacramento with her family. She and her husband had to take time off work and set aside funds for the trip. “It was really hard for my husband because he had to take care of [the kids] in the car pretty much all day,” Edwards said.

In other words, she succeeded, but barely. And she is aware that many service workers are not so lucky.

This is why she speaks openly about the struggle of service workers to access reproductive health care, advocating as member from the Association A fair salary to improve working conditions in the catering industry. Most recently, this volunteer work has included supporting One Fair Wage’s new Abortion and Reproductive Health Fund for service workers.

In late July, One Fair Wage, which represents more than 200,000 service workers nationwide, partnered with I will have what she has (IHWSH), a Houston, Texas-based nonprofit organization for workers in the food and beverage industry, to launch the Service Worker Reproduction Access Fund. The fund covers travel for abortions, family planning counselling, contraception and other reproductive health care services. All tip service workers can apply online for support, which is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade with his Decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, abortion funds across the country saw a surge in donations. But it is the first national fund focused on service workers, including restaurant workers, delivery people, sex workers, bartenders and those in other jobs where tipping is essential.

Even when abortion was a constitutional right, service workers — a group of mostly women and people of color who are typically uninsured, earn low wages, and face high rates of sexual assault — have often had difficulty accessing the procedure.

“We have known for years that [food workers are] more affected by reproductive rights issues than virtually anyone else,” said Saru Jayaraman, Chairman of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Work Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “So when the decision was made, we were already thinking about how we could start getting funding and support for people.”

The Dobbs decision paved the way for 17 states so far to enact laws banning abortion, at 20 weeks or earlier, including 12 states with near-total bans. The Hyde Amendment, which bans abortion in federally funded clinics, first passed in 1976, has long inhibited abortion access for service workers and low-income people of color. Yet this has rapidly worsened under the new wave of extremely punitive and extreme restrictions.

“In the majority of American states, abortion is a catastrophic health costs for peoplesaid Margaret Mary Downey, assistant professor specializing in reproductive and maternal health inequalities at Tulane University’s School of Social Work.

“If we add to that the precariousness of tipped workers – the fact that minimum wage laws for tipped workers aren’t even what they are for traditional wage earners [in many states] — all of these economic problems are getting worse,” Downey said.

The precariousness of working for tips

One Fair Wage has long advocated policies that place all tipped workers on equal footing with other minimum wage workers. Only seven states require employers to pay minimum wage to tipped workers, while the rest allow them to pay less than tipped workers with the idea that it will be supplemented by tips.

Jayaraman sees the inequality caused by these wage laws as being deeply tied to access to abortion, noting that “many of these workers’ wages are central to their ability to do anything.”

In the spring, after the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, One Fair Wage members became concerned about access to abortion, which spurred the partnership with IHWSH and the new fund.

The coalition of chefs, hospitality professionals and IHWSH activists raised $60,000 through their Project 1973 to fund local reproductive health care. This funding stream has since been integrated into the national fund with One Fair Wage. A segregated fund — the Liz Fenton Purse Snack Fund — was also established in 2018 to provide mental and reproductive health care to food and beverage workers in Houston. Earlier this month, the local fund supported an “IUD Day”, providing free long-term contraception – 40 IUDs and 6 vasectomies – to service workers. Both funds are currently navigating the changing and disparate legal landscape.

“We want to make sure everyone has access to birth control and abortion, and that’s going to be different in every state. For a while, this will constantly change. It’s going to take some time to get these systems in place,” said Lori Choi, vascular surgeon and founding member of the IHWSH.

The national fund, the first of its kind, addresses a longstanding and growing gap in abortion access for service workers. Edwards, of One Fair Wage, notes that it would have benefited her throughout her career as a service worker – from when she had to have an abortion to when she paid for her own emergency contraception as a teenager with the money she had earned delivering pizzas.

As the cost of food and gas soars, Edwards sees more and more service workers struggling to start the families they want — whether that means seeking abortions or supporting children. they choose to have.

“There are parents in the service industry, and they still can’t feed their kids while they serve other people’s food,” Edwards said. “We have had a fixed budget for food for the past year. Now, in the middle of the month, our budget does not fit.

Service workers organizing for each other

The recently launched National Abortion Fund is one of many projects that have developed among service workers to support each other, financially and otherwise, in accessing reproductive health care and basic needs.

“This workforce has become this incredibly important workforce during COVID, the people who make and bring food to us,” said Downey of Tulane. “We are also starting to have a kind of collective consciousness around this. It was this time to think beyond just surviving day-to-day together.

Growing solidarity among hospitality workers also led to the formation of New Orleans’s Good problem network, which organizes monthly fundraisers for different social causes with the slogan “Eat Well & Fuck Racism”. In July, they hosted a dinner with symbol-laden menu items – blood stew, baby lamb, papaya and pineapple (playing on a myth that these foods cause abortions), seafood ceviche and desert poking fun at biblical folklore – to raise money for two local abortion funds, which many city service workers rely on.

“When you can joke about something, it takes power away from the oppressors, so we decided to encourage all of our participating chefs to have fun with the menu,” said Hannah Epstein, oyster sheller on the board. of the network.

In Houston, the pandemic has spurred a similarly unified community among the city’s service workers, and some progressive restaurateurs have developed policies to help make their spaces more conducive to gathering and organizing.

“The onus is squarely on you as a business owner to really participate in these communities and support what they want,” said Lindsay Rae Burleson, owner of the two headed dog bar in Houston and volunteer with the IHWSH. It can look like opening the restaurant for community gatherings or donating a dollar from a menu item to the ACLU as a show of support, she said.

“I feel like taverns and cafes and bars are these amazing third places that historically have been where movements came out of in America,” Burleson said. “That’s where you get your news; that’s where you got your information.

The news Burleson likes to share most often: how service workers can get an IUD, wellness exam, or get their other reproductive health needs met through the IHWSH.

Restaurant industry workers organize to fund their own reproductive care [Civil Eats]


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Cecil N. Messick