A Strangling Situation
She looked at her paycheck and chuckled, shaking her head at the nine dollars that stared back at her. This was her pay after working for seventy hours.
Life was already difficult. Her bills were due, most of which she was already behind on. She couldn’t continue working this hard for such little pay. She would have her revenge.
Many people describe adult life as hard. Life after high school demands that a person becomes independent. People look for or create jobs to satisfy this need.
Some are lucky enough to find high-paying jobs. Others have to wade through whatever life throws at them. For twenty-year-old Aaliyah Cortez, adulthood was not kind. But she would do everything in her power not to let life break her.
A young single mom living in California, Aaliyah was driven to give her son the best life he could want. Every morning, she woke up early to search job forums in her local area for anything up her alley.
Aaliyah managed to land a bartending job, seeing it as a perfect fit. She didn’t know how wrong she was.
Adulthood Becomes Tough
The first day at her new job was easy enough. All that Aaliyah had to do was serve drinks and hold the occasional conversation with customers. She enjoyed the experience, thanking God that she chose this path.
One of the customers left her a twenty-dollar tip while clearing his tab. The gesture caught Aaliyah by surprise. Little did she know that more shock was barreling her way.
A Good First Week
The week followed the same pattern as Aaliyah’s first day. Customers occasionally left tips as a thank you for her service.
On the last day of the second week, her employer handed her her first paycheck. Aaliyah grabbed the payment slip and stashed it into her purse. She was happy to buy her son something nice to eat that night. If she knew better, she should have checked the slip then.
On her way home, Aaliyah decided to pass by a GameStop. Her son had been talking about this new video game that he liked. She wanted to surprise him with it tonight.
Before walking into the store, Aaliyah decided to check her salary. She fished out the slip and scanned through it. She cocked her head back, her brows rising. Something was terribly wrong.
Aaliyah held in a sigh. The paycheck indicated she had made a hundred and fifty dollars in the last two weeks. But after social security Medicare and income tax, she was only receiving nine dollars.
She huffed out a hot breath, a slight chuckle echoing up her paining chest. Nine dollars. Her rent, alongside other dozen bills, was due. Adulthood was going to swallow her alive. Her blood boiled.
Playing it Smart
Aaliyah returned the slip into her purse. Her fists balled, a surge of anger firing in her chest before settling in her stomach. After all the hours she’d put in, this was all she was receiving?
She looked into her purse, seeing the ninety dollars she made that day in tips. She held back tears as she realized her son wouldn’t be getting his game tonight. As soon as she got home, she found another problem waiting for her.
A Big Problem
Her landlord had left a late rent notice on her door. Aaliyah didn’t even read it, only plucked and stuffed it in her purse next to her paycheck.
She spent that night lying awake in her room. She wondered how she would meet her and her son’s needs. Maybe she could hire a lawyer to help her–but she didn’t have the funds. Then, she thought of something epic.
Taking the Reins
Aaliyah’s world was crashing down on her. Her pay, the only thing that could save her from all this, was too low. Outraged, she decided to do something about it.
She refined her approach to bartending, looking at ways to receive more tips. She began working that same night, but another issue soon cropped up.
Even though Aaliyah was pushing herself to the limit, the tips weren’t as lucrative as she had projected. She needed to put in more hours if this was to work.
Aaliyah talked to her boss and got an additional role as a server. She could now work both day and night. The weekend came, and Aaliyah sat down to count her tips.
A Satisfactory Outcome
Her lips twitched, the smile broadening into a grin. Aaliyah had made seven hundred dollars off of tipping.
Her workmates could not believe she had made such an amount from tipping alone. Aaliyah let them in on her formula. The system worked well for them, but their boss soon found out what they were doing.
Aaliyah was unsure whether their boss would fire them. To her surprise, he acknowledged the difficulties of working under their current climate.
He also commended them for their newfound work ethic and the buzz it had created for their bar. Aaliyah went home and cleared all her pending bills. But even though she was happy, she still had a long way to go to give her son the life he deserved.
With the help of her colleagues, Aaliyah came up with a better system that leveraged working as a team to create better experiences for their customers. Their business skyrocketed, so did the tips they were receiving.
Aaliyah could not believe it. She bought her son the game he asked for. Although it wasn’t enough to show him how much he meant to her, it was an excellent start. Now there was only one thing left to do.
Making A Video
In her TikTok video, Aaliyah showed her shockingly low paycheck to the world. “I should have made $151,” she said, but after the government had taken its share of federal income tax, Medicare, and Social Security, she couldn’t even afford to live.
“I cannot afford to live off of $2.13 an hour, so I solely rely on the generosity of my customers,” she added, “This is why you tip.”
Everyone who saw the video demanded to know why Aaliyah chose to continue working for the bar – surely, she should leave if the pay was so dismal?
Aaliyah had made the video to highlight what workers in the service industry have to endure and what a flawed system it is, but she never expected how much traction it would get.
Aaliyah’s video garnered over 937,000 views and counting – people were absolutely shocked and appalled. The worst part?
The nine-dollar paycheck may have astounded users on social media, but a paycheck that low for people in the service industry is not all that unusual. Aaliyah’s video created such waves that the media was contacting her day and night.
A Minor Celebrity
After her video went viral, Aaliyah ended up doing interviews with Buzzfeed, TODAY, and Fox News, to name just a few.
“Honestly, every time I open a check I just chuckle a little bit. My coworkers and I will compare checks to see who got the least amount and we’ll just laugh because it’s ridiculous how little we get paid.” So, who is responsible for this?
Aaliyah, like many other bartenders and servers, earns the absolute minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.
The problem comes in when the U.S. Department of Labor stipulates that every tip Aaliyah receives can be used by her boss as a means to pay her a salary below the federal minimum wage. Contrary to what most people think, her tips form part of her salary! And there are other problems with this.
Open To Harassment And Discrimination
Because Aaliyah’s salary relies on the generosity of the people she’s serving, she has to always be as pleasant as possible – even if it means she has to endure sexual harrassment or discrimination.
The difficulty Aaliya faces were perfectly summed up by one user’s comment on her TikTok video: “No we tip when we’re given good service. We don’t tip because you are being paid $2 an hour. That’s you problem tbh.”
Relying On Strangers
“There are laws set up that allow tipped employees to be paid under the federal minimum wage, which makes us rely on the customer to pay our wages,” Aaliyah told Buzzfeed.
“It’s not right that we have to do this, but I wanted to shed some light on the issue and inform the public about the importance of tipping.” And the scary part? Aaliyah’s checks have been lower.
Not A Living Wage
“If I had a good two weeks from my tips, my check will be on the lower side,” Aaliyah explained. “At my last restaurant, my checks would come out to be $0,” she continued.
“I just wish we were all being paid adequately and consistently,” she said. “As you can see — by my check — I cannot afford to live off of $2.13 an hour, so I solely rely on the generosity of my customers.”
As shown by the comments on Aaliyah’s video, she had brought up a sensitive topic. The video made its way over to Twitter where it sparked a heated debate. While a lot of people were supportive, many chose to blame Aaliyah for her own situation.
“Stop working there then,” one unsympathetic user wrote. “Don’t go into a job knowing the outcome and blame people for not tipping.”
Many users blamed Aaliyah for her low wages. After all, America is a capitalist country, right?
As the online debate raged, some users rushed to Aaliyah’s defense – stating that it wasn’t her fault that she earned such low wages, it was the system’s: “The problem is, it shouldn’t be on the customer to begin with,” this user wrote. “It’s an excuse for restaurants to get away with starvation wages.” But the plight of servers is nothing new.
For years, people all over the United States have started matching their bills with their tips as part of a viral internet trend. This trend is called the “Tip the Bill Challenge.”
It was initiated by those who wanted to acknowledge the hard workers in the service industry by doing something kind for them. It is well-known that servers struggle to make ends meet, and there’s a reason for that.
Tipped Minimum Wage
Not many people are aware that workers in the service industry aren’t paid in the same way as those with jobs in other industries. They receive a “tipped minimum wage,” which amounts to a fraction of the federal minimum wage.
Tips are designed to cover the rest of a server’s income, but there is no guarantee that they will.
This leaves servers beholden to the whims of their paying customers, and it’s an unfair system. But there are some who are beginning to challenge it.
Danny Meyer, a restaurant owner who manages a wide array of bars and restaurants in New York City, has decided to do away with tipping altogether in is establishments.
Challenging The System
“I just decided — instead of blaming the tipping system for what didn’t seem fair or right, why not take it into our own hands?”
With Danny Meyer leading the way, hopefully, others will follow suit. This will ensure that service workers are given fair compensation for the valuable work they do. We need more people to do what Aaliyah did.
Don’t Forget To Tip
Even after all she’s been through, Aaliyah insisted that she loves her job, despite the dismal pay. “The most upsetting situation happens where a table doesn’t tip is from sports fans when their team doesn’t win. We have absolutely no control of that and we’ve most likely waited on them for a few hours!” she explained.
“We don’t like relying on the customer, but until the laws can get changed, we still need to be paid,” Aaliyah said in an interview. “Whatever you do, Don’t. Forget. To. Tip.”
Aaliyah shared her story with the world. She showed societies that most bartenders and servers rely solely on tips to survive.
She also advised her fellow moms to continue being strong. As a mom, she understood the responsibilities and expectations of the job. “I would want them to know I’m supporting them!” she said.