Servers of the World Unite

We all know someone, or have been someone, who has worked in the restaurant industry under precarious working conditions. Working for tips and less than minimum wage, working long and strange hours and split shifts, dealing with for harassing customers and/or bosses, physically tasking conditions, and most notably having little job security.

In our practice we’ve talked to servers who have been underpaid, discriminated against, sexually harassed or sexually assaulted by their employers and who have been fired without receiving their last pay cheques let alone pay in lieu of notice. We’ve negotiated settlements for some people, drafted human rights complaints and statements of claim. But as practitioners we haven’t taken the public shaming route.

Enter the Ottawa-Outaouais Industrial Workers of the World. This week they called for a boycott of Vittoria Trattoria, a restaurant in the Byward Market, Ottawa’s tourist district. The group has picketed outside the restaurant to shame the owners for firing a server for voicing concerns over safety issues. The owner of the restaurant has agreed to pay the server his 2 weeks in lieu of notice but the local IWW chapter is insisting that he also be paid what he would have made in tips, arguing that tips is the bulk of a server’s income. The owner has said that tips are a privilege to be earned and the former employee has vowed to keep picketing the business until he is paid what he would have made.

For workers in this precarious sector should 2 weeks pay in lieu of notice include tips? Thus far it looks like the server hasn’t asked the courts to answer this question. It doesn’t appear that he’s filed a statement of claim or taken any legal action. It looks like he’s chosen to hash this out, in his words, in “the court of public opinion”.

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