This story was originally published on Civil Eats.
Three years ago, Arielle Tess Edwards was living with her husband in Redding, California, taking care of three children, including a breastfed infant, while working two low-paying service jobs. During the week of her 28th birthday, she unexpectedly learned that she was pregnant.
She knew that a fourth child would stretch her family’s budget extremely thin. “Because I couldn’t afford another baby, I had to go get an abortion,” Edwards said.
But getting an abortion was challenging. Although Planned Parenthood was nearby, the clinic stopped offering abortions because of the threats the clinic had received. Edwards was unable to find childcare; she had to travel 320 miles round trip to Sacramento with her family. She and her husband had to quit work and save money for the trip. “It was really hard on my husband because he had to take care of [the kids] in the car almost all day,” Edwards said.
In other words, she pulled it off, just barely. And she knows that many service workers are not so lucky.
That’s why she’s outspoken about service workers’ struggles to access reproductive health care, advocating as a member of the nonprofit One Fair Wage to improve working conditions in the restaurant industry. Most recently, this volunteering involved supporting the new One Wage abortion and reproductive health fund for service 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 Houston, Texas-based nonprofit for food industry workers and drink, to launch the Service. Workers Reproductive Access Fund. The fund covers travel for abortions, family planning counseling, contraception, and other reproductive health care services. All skip service workers can apply online for support, which is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade with its Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization ruling. Jackson in June, donations to abortion funds across the country have increased. But this is the first national fund aimed at service workers, including restaurant workers, delivery workers, sex workers, bartenders, and those who work other jobs 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 experience high rates of sexual assault — often had difficulty accessing on 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 Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley . “So when the decision came down, we were already thinking about how we could start getting funds and support for people.”
The Dobbs decision cleared the way for 17 states to date to enact laws banning abortion, at 20 weeks or earlier, including 12 states that have almost complete bans. The Hyde Amendment, which bans abortions in federally funded clinics, first passed in 1976, has long blocked access to abortion for service workers and low-income people of color. But this grew much worse under a new wave of highly punitive and extreme restrictions.
“In most states in the US, abortion is a catastrophic health expenditure for people,” said Margaret Mary Downey, an assistant professor focused on reproductive and maternal health disparities at Tulane University’s School of Social Work.
“If we add to that the precariousness of skip workers — the fact that the minimum wage laws for salaried workers aren’t even where they are for traditional wage workers [in many states] — all of these economic issues increase,” Downey said.
The Precarity of Working for Tips
Fair Pay has long been advocated for policies that would put all workers on the field on an equal footing with other minimum wage workers. Only seven states require employers to pay skip workers a minimum wage, while the rest allow them to pay skip workers a lower wage with the idea of adding tips.
Jayaraman sees the inequality these wage laws cause as deeply tied to access to abortion, noting that “for many of these workers wages are at the core of their ability to do anything.”
In the spring, after the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, One Fair Wage members began to raise concerns about abortion access, prompting the partnership with IHWSH and the new fund.
A coalition of IHWSH 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 Fair Pay. A separate fund – the Liz Fenton Purse Snack Fund – was also established in 2018 to provide mental and reproductive health care for food and beverage workers in Houston. Earlier this month, the local fund supported “IUD Day,” which provides free long-term contraception – 40 IUDs and 6 vasectomies – to service workers. Both funds are grappling with the patchwork legal landscape that is currently developing.
“We want to make sure that anyone has access to contraception and abortion, and that’s going to be different in every state. For a while, it will always be changing. It will take some time to implement those systems,” said Lori Choi, a vascular surgeon and founding member of IHWSH.
The national fund, the first of its kind, addresses the long-standing gap in abortion access for service workers. 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 emergency contraception as teenager with the money she gave. who earned a pizza delivery.
As the cost of food and gas increases, Edwards sees more service industry workers struggling to raise the families they want — whether that means seeking abortions or providing for the children they choose to have. to have
“Parents are in the service industry, and they still can’t feed their children while serving other people’s food,” Edwards said. “We have set a budget for food for the past year. Now, halfway through the month, our budget is not permanent.”
Service Workers Organizing for Each Other
The newly launched national abortion fund is one of many projects developed among service workers to support each other, financially and otherwise, in accessing reproductive health care and basic needs.
“This workforce has emerged as an incredibly important workforce during COVID, the people who make and give us food,” said Downey of Tulane. “We’re starting to get awareness around that as well. This was a time to think beyond the day-to-day living together.”
The growing solidarity among hospitality workers also led to the formation of the New Orleans Good Troubled Network, which hosts monthly fundraisers for various social causes with the motto “Eat Well & Fuck racism.” In July, they hosted a dinner with laden symbolic menu items – blood stew, baby lamb, papaya, and pineapple, (playing on the myth that these foods are abortive) seafood ceviche, and an apple desert at a biblical folklore joke – to raise money for two local abortion funds, on which many of the town’s service workers depend.
“When you can make fun of something, it takes the power away from the oppressors. So, we decided to encourage all of our participating chefs to have fun with the menu,” said Hannah Epstein, oyster catcher on the network’s board of directors.
In Houston, the pandemic has inspired a similar united community among the city’s service workers, and some progressive restaurant owners have developed policies to help make their spaces more conducive to gathering and organizing.
“The onus is on you, as a business owner, to really participate in those communities and support what they want,” said Lindsay Rae Burleson, owner of the Two Headed Dog bar in Houston and an IHWSH volunteer. This could look like opening the restaurant for community gatherings or donating a dollar from a menu item to the ACLU as a sign of support, she said.
“I feel like pubs, coffee shops and bars are these great third places that movements have historically come out of in America,” Burleson said. “That’s where you got your news; that’s where you got your information from.”
Burleson’s favorite news to share: How service workers can get an IUD, a wellness exam, or meet their other reproductive health needs through IHWSH.
• Food Service Industry Workers Are Organizing to Fund Their Own Reproductive Care [Civil Eats]