Meet Nataki

For the last 10 years, I have worked as a restaurant server. I love the food business, and I want to make it my career. My dream is to one day have my own food truck, serving my signature dish. Jerk chicken. I know you all would love it!

Nataki Rhodes, working mother


But until I can earn a higher wage, that dream is gonna have to wait. Because I can’t afford to start a business. Right now, I can’t even afford the basics, like rent, utilities, and food.

It’s not that I don’t work hard. I hustle. I work full-time, and take side jobs when I can. The problem is, I’m not paid what I’m worth. The truth is, I’m not paid enough to survive.

As a restaurant server, I work for tips. That’s even worse than working for minimum wage. Right now, Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, but if you work for tips, your employer only has to pay you $4.95 an hour.

You’re supposed to make up the rest with your tips, but a lot of the time, it doesn’t add up. I have to split my tips with the busboys and the bartenders. And my employers don’t always make up the difference like they’re supposed to. I never know how much I’m gonna make because they’re changing my schedule all the time, and sometimes it’s slow. But how can I complain? If I do, I could be out of a job.

Getting ready for work

Every month, I have to make tough decisions about what bills not to pay. Like a lot of servers, I depend on my LINK card to put food on the table. I wish I could afford a safe neighborhood, but I live in one of those neighborhoods you hear about on the news every night. I usually can’t pay all my rent on the first of the month, so I have to hope that when I get behind, my landlord will understand. So far he has, and I’m thankful, because I’ve got my son to worry about.

My son Joseph. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He graduated high school last year, and he just started college. He’s gonna be the first one in this family with a college degree. I know he’s got a bright future. I do what I can to help him get through college. I wish I could do more.

My son is one of the reasons I first went to the Restaurant Opportunities Center, or ROC. I wanted some training so I can get a better job in this industry. Now I’ve got my food and sanitation license and my bartending certification. It was at ROC that I learned people like me who work in food service are joining together to demand something better. Better wages, the chance to earn sick time, a regular schedule.  

Speaking up for paid sick days at a press conference

We know restaurants aren’t gonna change on their own, so it’s up to us to make sure things change. But restaurant workers can’t do it alone. We need you to stand with us. I’m proud that Women Employed is working with ROC and other groups to push for a higher minimum wage, and to make sure tipped workers get the full minimum wage. When you support Women Employed, you’re supporting workers like me. Women and mothers like me.

Even though every day is a struggle, my hopes are high! And I know, if we all come together and fight together for change, a whole lot of restaurant workers like me will have a chance to reach their dreams. When I get my food truck, which I will, I hope you’ll all stop by and try my jerk chicken!

Hear More from Nataki



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