04/07/2014 11:58 am ET Updated Jun 07, 2014

Watch: All Work and No Pay

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Previously published on

You've heard about the wave of recent protests calling on fast food chains like McDonald's and Burger King to raise wages for their employees, who are forced to live on next to nothing. But did you know that many workers in sit-down restaurants may be faring even worse?

That's because back in 1991, the National Restaurant Association passed around enough campaign contributions to persuade Congress to set the federal minimum wage for waiters, busboys and bartenders at only $2.13 an hour. And it has never gone up.

They claim that tips are additional income that make up the difference. But tips are random and often meager. So much so that restaurant workers are twice as likely as other Americans to be on public assistance.

This week, Bill speaks with Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, about the group's fight for better wages and working conditions for America's 10 million restaurant workers.

"In any other context, what is it called when an employer practically doesn't pay their workers, full-time workers? It's called slavery," Saru Jayaraman tells Moyers. "... And so how is it that a major industry has basically convinced America, convinced Congress, that they practically shouldn't have to pay their workers at all? It's purely money and power. And their control over our legislators."

Because ROC has been making headway, they've got powerful enemies, including Rick Berman, dubbed "Dr. Evil" by 60 Minutes, a DC-based lawyer and public relations man who specializes in industry-funded attack campaigns against health and safety regulations, the minimum wage and organized labor.


Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at