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Divided Wages and Divided Workers: Tips and the Two-Employer Problem

Hanna Goldberg (CUNY Graduate Center, New York City, NY, USA)

Ethnographies of Work

ISBN: 978-1-83753-949-9, eISBN: 978-1-83753-948-2

Publication date: 12 December 2023


The extra-low minimum wage for US restaurant workers has remained unchanged for over 30 years. Periodic campaigns have brought this wage, and its connection to the perpetuation of inequality and exploitative work, to public attention, but these campaigns have met resistance from both employers and restaurant workers. This article draws on a workplace ethnography in a restaurant front-of-house, and in-depth interviews with tipped food service workers, to examine the tipped labour process and begin to answer a central question: why would any workers oppose a wage increase? It argues that the constituting of tips as a formal wage created for workers a two-employer problem, wherein customers assume the role of secondary, unregulated, employers in the workplace. Ultimately, the tipped wage poses a longer-term strategic obstacle for workers in their position relative to management and ability to organize to shape the terms and conditions of their work.



Goldberg, H. (2023), "Divided Wages and Divided Workers: Tips and the Two-Employer Problem", Delbridge, R., Helfen, M., Pekarek, A. and Purser, G. (Ed.) Ethnographies of Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 9-33.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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