Restaurant workers stood in the courtyard of the Village Gate on Labor Day afternoon to announce a citywide campaign against sexual harassment in their workplaces.
Mohini Sharma organized the event with MetroJustice, saying it’s unacceptable that this type of behavior can sometimes be "considered part of the job" by some managers.
"That can be anything from being hit on, comments about their appearance, being asked for their number incessantly, being touched, being grabbed."
She said it’s often commonplace for servers and bartenders to tolerate comments and gestures made by customers as a means to get tips.
Minimum wage for most restaurant workers is $7.50.
"You can't pay bills on $7.50 an hour. So we rely on the tips and customers know either subconsciously or consciously that they own us, and they feel like they can behave however they want. And it becomes a part of our job to commodify ourselves for their pleasure, whether we're comfortable with it or not."
Workers shared their stories of customers crossing the line, some leading to sexual assault.
Isabelle Bartter shared her story. As an experienced restaurant worker, she said she was fired when she began transitioning. A year after the incident, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that transgender employment is covered under sex discrimination, but that coverage isn’t stable.
"Since that commission is appointed by the President it almost doesn’t matter anymore, because they can reverse that at any time."
She said this is when a restaurant workers union would have been useful, because it gives the worker power and an organization to turn to for help.
A petition has been drafted asking Rochester restaurant owners to commit to acknowledging and stopping sexual harassment in their establishments.