One Fair Wage

Ending Subminimum Pay in America

From the author of the acclaimed Behind the Kitchen Door, a powerful examination of how the subminimum wage and the tipping system exploit society’s most vulnerable

“No one has done more to move forward the rights of food and restaurant workers than Saru Jayaraman.” —Mark Bittman, author of The Kitchen Matrix and A Bone to Pick

Before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the country, more than six million people earned their living as tipped workers in the service industry. They served us in cafes and restaurants, they delivered food to our homes, they drove us wherever we wanted to go, and they worked in nail salons for as little as $2.13 an hour—the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991—leaving them with next to nothing to get by.

These workers, unsurprisingly, were among the most vulnerable workers during the pandemic. As businesses across the country closed down or drastically scaled back their services, hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. As in many other areas, the pandemic exposed the inadequacies of the nation’s social safety net and minimum-wage standards.

One of New York magazine’s “Influentials” of New York City, one of CNN’s Visionary Women in 2014, and a White House Champion of Change in 2014, Saru Jayaraman is a nationally acclaimed restaurant activist and the author of the bestselling Behind the Kitchen Door. In her new book, One Fair Wage, Jayaraman shines a light on these workers, illustrating how the people left out of the fight for a fair minimum wage are society’s most marginalized: people of color, many of them immigrants; women, who form the majority of tipped workers; disabled workers; incarcerated workers; and youth workers. They epitomize the direction of our whole economy, reflecting the precariousness and instability that is increasingly the lot of American labor.


“It is hard to believe that some American workers are legally paid as little as $2.13 an hour. In this passionate cry for justice Saru Jayaraman introduces us to some of those workers as they struggle to make ends meet. Reading this book there were times when I got so angry I had to stop and throw the book across the room.”
—Ruth Reichl, author of My Kitchen Year
One Fair Wage powerfully reveals the history of the racist, sexist subminimum wage and offers a wake-up call—challenging us to see how the subminimum wage continues to cause needless suffering in the lives of millions of people today, including incarcerated people and disabled workers who are often relegated to the margins of wage and labor debates. This book is not to be missed if you care about economic justice in America.”
—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
One Fair Wage shines a bright light on the complex and cruel web of systematic wage inequity in America—while also outlining the straightforward, concrete solutions necessary to overcome this crisis. Saru Jayaraman is a vital leader fighting for economic justice across our country, and her voice and vision are a road map for all of us.”
—Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal
“A clearly argued . . . case for bringing economic justice to a growing segment of the workforce.”
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Read an excerpt from Saru Jayaraman’s One Fair Wage in Lit Hub.

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