Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fight fiercely, Harvard Club waitstaff

Back in my college waitressing days, I worked a couple of shifts at the Harvard Club of Boston.

It was not a regular gig, but I had a friend who worked there every weekend, and I occasionally got drafted to fill in. My memories are that I mostly served fairly desiccated duck a l’orange to fairly desiccated old geezers who lived there and took their meals in the dining room.  And that my friend was usually humming the Beatles “Everywhere there’s lots of piggies, leading piggy lives” under her breath while she worked.

I think we were paid a flat rate per shift – no tips included – which if I recall correctly worked out to $13.54 for a three-hour shift. At a time when the minimum wage was $1.60, that certainly wasn’t terrible – and was probably the equivalent of what you’d have made with tips. I remember thinking that the flat rate wasn’t a bad deal. But that was eons ago, and today’s wait staff are apparently more attuned to whether or not they’re getting screwed:

Employees filed a class action lawsuit in November, claiming they had been cheated out of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in tips because of a misleading 17 percent surcharge on food and beverage bills that the club stated was collected “in lieu of a gratuity.” Some club members thought they were effectively paying tips, but the workers didn’t get any of the surcharge money. (Source: Boston.com)

Why not just fold the extra 17% into the price and say “no tipping”, which is their policy?

I’m assuming that The Club was paying the waitrons more than the minimum that’s required for those who receive tips – which has always been pretty darned minimal and which I don’t imagine, relatively speaking, has gotten much better over the years. Still, even if they were paying a decent hourly wage, it does seem sort of sneaky and mean-spirited to let the diners infer that the wait staff was making a bit extra off of them.

Anyway, Harvard’s making the aggrieved waitstaff $4 million settlement:

“…in part with the proceeds of a projected sale of one of its buildings at the main clubhouse on Commonwealth Avenue.”

Which is where I worked.

I wonder what’s for sale? Did all the desiccated old grads die? Do they no longer need to clubhouse to be a bunkhouse?

When I did my waiting, I was under the impression that the gentlemen who lived there were a bunch of ancient bachelors for whom Harvard was their dearest and closest relationship. It’s not just poor folks who need Single Room Occupancy residences…But maybe in this day and age, there are a lot more housing alternatives for the elderly with money. (Of course, I’m making a couple of assumptions here. One, that a Harvard grad will be able to afford a place to live in his dotage, and can take advantage of the housing alternatives out there. Two, that the part of the “clubhouse” that’s for sale is the part that the old dears lived in. Not that anyone I waited on could possibly still be alive…)


It was not immediately clear how many current and former waitstaff would receive compensation from the settlement.

I’m wondering whether it’s too late to get in on the settlement. I’ll have to let MB know. She’s a recently retired librarian, so I’m sure she’d be happy to have some folding green in lieu of the tips we didn’t make. I know I would.

Solidarity forever!

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