Three years ago, Arielle Tess Edwards was living with her husband in Redding, California, taking care of three children, including a breastfed baby, while working two low-paying service jobs. During the week of her 28th birthday, she learned that she was unexpectedly pregnant.
She knew that a fourth child would stretch her family’s budget extremely thin. “Because I couldn’t afford another child, I had to go and get an abortion,” Edwards said.
But getting an abortion was a challenge. Although there was a ‘Planned Parenthood’ nearby, the clinic had stopped offering abortions due to the threats the clinic had received. Edwards unable to find childcare; she had to travel 320 miles round trip to Sacramento with her family. She and her husband had to take the job and set aside money for the trip. “It was very difficult for my husband because he had to take care of [the children] in the car almost all day,” said Edwards.
In other words, she pulled it off, but just barely. And she is aware of the fact that many service workers are not so lucky.
That’s why she’s outspoken about service workers’ fight to access reproductive health care, advocating as a member of the nonprofit One Fair Pay to improve labor conditions in the restaurant industry. Most recently, this voluntary work has included supporting the new One Fair Pay reproductive health and abortion fund for armed forces workers.
In late July, One Fair Wage, which represents more than 200,000 service workers nationally, partnered with I’ll Have What She’s Having (IHWSH), a non-profit in Houston, Texas for food industry workers and drink, to launch the Service. Employee Reproductive Access Fund. The fund covers travel for abortions, family planning counseling, contraception, and other reproductive health care services. All tipped service workers can apply online for assistance, which is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Foundation in June, abortion funds across the country have seen a surge in donations. But this is the first national fund that focuses on service workers, including restaurant workers, delivery workers, sex workers, bartenders, and those who work in other positions where tips are central.
Even when abortion was a constitutional right, service workers—a group made up mostly of women and people of color who are uninsured, earn low wages, and face high rates of sexual assault—have often struggled to get access to the procedure.
“We’ve known for years that [food workers] are more affected by reproductive rights issues than almost anyone else,” said Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage and director of the Center for Food Labor Research at the University of California, Berkeley. . “So, when the decision came down, we were already thinking about how we could start getting money and help to people.”
The Dobbs decision paved the way for 17 states to date to enact laws banning abortion, 20 weeks or earlier, including 12 states with near-total bans. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits abortion from being performed in federally funded clinics, first passed in 1976, has long prevented abortion access for service workers and low-income people of color. Yet this has rapidly worsened under the new wave of extreme, highly punitive restrictions.
“In most states in the United States, abortion is a catastrophic health expenditure for people,” said Margaret Mary Downey, an assistant professor who focuses on reproductive and maternal health disparities at Tulane University’s School of Social Work.
“If we add to that the insecurity of tipped workers – the fact that minimum wage laws for tipped workers are not even what they are for traditional wage workers [in many states] – it “all these economic issues are getting worse,” said Downey.
The Precarity of Working for Tips
One Fair Wage has long advocated for policies that put all tipped workers on the same level as other workers on the minimum wage. Only seven states require employers to pay tipped workers a minimum wage, while the rest allow them to pay tipped workers a lower wage with the idea that it is supported by suggestions.
Jayaraman sees the inequity these wage laws cause as tied to abortion access, noting that “wages for many of these workers are at the root of their ability to do anything at all.”
In the spring, after the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, One Fair Wage members began to raise concerns about abortion access, triggering the partnership with IHWSH and the new fund.
The IHWSH coalition of chefs, hospitality professionals, and activists has raised $60,000 through their 1973 Project to fund local reproductive health care. This funding stream has since been folded into the national fund with One Fair Wage. A separate fund – the Liz Fenton Purse Snack Fund – was also established in 2018 to provide mental health and reproductive care to food and beverage workers in Houston. Earlier this month, the local fund supported “IUD Day,” providing free long-term contraception — 40 IUDs and 6 vasectomies — to service workers. Both funds are currently shaping the evolving patchwork legal landscape.
“We want to arrange for anyone to have access to contraception and abortion, and that’s going to be different in every state. For a while, it’s going to be constantly changing. Getting those systems in place is going to take some time,” said Lori Choi, a vascular surgeon and one of the founders of IHWSH.
The national fund, the first of its kind, addresses a long-standing, growing gap in abortion access for service members. Edwards, of One Fair Wage, notes that this would have benefited her throughout her career as a service worker — from the time she needed an abortion to the time she paid for her own emergency contraception as a teenager with the money she made. won pizzas delivery.
As the cost of food and gas increases, Edwards sees more service industry workers struggling to build the families they want — whether that means seeking an abortion or providing for the children they choose to have.
“There are parents in the service industry, and they still can’t feed their children while they’re serving other people’s food,” said Edwards. “We have had a specific budget for food over the past year. Now, halfway through the month, our budget doesn’t last.”
Service Workers Organizing for Each Other
The newly launched national abortion fund is one of many projects that have developed among service workers to support each other, financially and otherwise, to access reproductive health care and basic needs.
“This workforce emerged as this incredibly important workforce during COVID, the people who make and bring us food,” Tulane’s Downey said. “We’re also starting to have a sort of collective awareness around that. This is the time to think beyond the day-to-day survival together.”
The growing solidarity among hospitality workers also led to the formation of Good Trouble Network New Orleans, which hosts monthly fundraisers for various social causes with a slogan of “Eat Well & Fuck Racism.” In July, the two hosted a dinner with symbolically laden menu items – blood stew, baby lamb, papaya, and pineapple, (playing on the legend that these foods cause abortions) seafood ceviche, and mock apple desert biblical folklore – to raise money for two local abortion funds, on which many of the town’s service workers rely.
“When you can joke about something, it takes power away from the oppressors. So, we decided to encourage all our chefs to have fun with the menu,” said Hannah Epstein, oyster on the network’s board of directors.
In Houston, the pandemic sparked a similar united community among the city’s service workers, and some progressive restaurateurs have developed policies to help make their spaces more conducive to congregating and organizing.
“The onus goes right on you, as a business owner, to really get involved in those communities and support what they want,” said Lindsay Rae Burleson, owner of the Two Headed Dog bar in Houston and a volunteer with IHWSH. This can look like opening the restaurant for community meetings or donating a dollar from a menu item to the ACLU as a sign of support, he said.
“I feel like pubs, coffee shops and bars are these incredible third places that have historically been where movements came out of America,” Burleson said. “This is where you got your news; that’s where you got your information.”
The news Burleson likes to share most often: how service workers can get an IUD, a wellness exam, or meet their other reproductive health needs through IHWSH.