Christine Thurman is a mother of three. She’s engaged and is the breadwinner in her Chicago household. She also works as a waitress, living primarily off of tips because she’s paid a subminimum wage of $2.13 per hour.

She can neither raise her children nor put food on the table on that hourly rate. That’s in part why she’s fighting to get fairer wages.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but federal law allows an employer to pay well below this hourly rate as long as an employee makes at least $30 in tips per month.

The subminimum wage is just one manifestation of the systemic racism that has been entrenched in the United States’ identity since its founding. While the federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009, the subminimum wage has been set at $2.13 per hour since 1996. But the concept of tip wages is even older—a relic of the Civil War. After emancipation, tipped wages were used as a way for businesses to not have to directly pay formerly enslaved people. Their income was dependent on the generosity of strangers.

Then when the concept of a minimum wage was introduced, these workers were left behind. In order to get support for the New Deal from Southern Democrats, Franklin Roosevelt introduced a federal minimum wage for workers, but excluded industries dominated by communities of color, like domestic and agricultural work.

This deeply entrenched problem leaves people like Thurman, who works a full 40-hour week, feeling underpaid for the time she puts in. “If you work hard you should be paid fairly,” Thurman says.

Read the full article about workers' rights by Andy Hirschfeld at Yes! Magazine.