Tips from Across the Atlantic

I spent last month traveling around Europe, where I mostly frolicked around in art museums and cathedrals. Not a bad life. I also ate some pretty fantastic food, and each time the bill came, I automatically started doing my usual mental math: there’s the total, move the decimal point, multiply by two. Oh wait was that the amount before tax? Do we have more than six in our party? More than once, I was reminded that we were not expected to leave anywhere near the familiar 15-20% tip, and a service charge was sometimes already in place.

Here in the States, tipping has become standard in the service industry, especially in  restaurant culture. Eateries that offer alternatives to the tipping system are far and few. Studies have shown that Americans overwhelmingly prefer tipping to a service charge. Maybe we feel that a service charge deprives us of the power to stick it to bad waiters, but studies have shown that the correlation between tips and service is weak. Tips are based largely on the bill amount, and customers usually tip the same percentage regardless of service quality.


The U.S. is also one of the only countries to establish a separate minimum wage for tipped employees. While the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the minimum tipped wage is only $2.13. Minimum wage in the U.S. lags behind much of western Europe, but the situation is worse for tipped employees. While minimum wage was last raised in 2009, tipped minimum wage has remained stagnant for the last twenty-two years. To put that into perspective, twenty-two years ago, a loaf of bread cost an average of 70 cents.

It’s common to think of tips as a reward for good service or the lack of tips as punishment for bad, but as it currently stands, restaurant workers rely almost entirely on tips to make a living. As a result, many struggle to make ends meet. Are we too cynical for the argument that decently paid workers will deliver good service without the additional incentive? I hope not. Employers should not be able to pay their wait staff the same wages as they did in 1991, and I challenge anyone to find bread now for 70 cents. As the battle for higher pay wages on (pun a little bit intended), let’s extend the case to include the tipped workers, lest we make them eat cake.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Our Ties with Skagit Valley Workers (And Why Their Protests are Important)

In 2009, four members of BSB traveled the west coast to visit farms, work with migrant farmers, ask questions about our produce industry… and film every second of the journey. The resulting footage became our self-titled documentary. Sure, it all happened over three years ago—but our project seems more relevant than ever in light of recent protests from Skagit Valley farm workers.

A program in the Skagit Valley—the Youth Migrant Project—inspired the documentary in the first place. And in the past week, workers from Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, WA protested wages, management, and the hire of temporary visa workers for the late summer harvest, among other things.

Here's one of our founders picking tomatoes.
Here’s one of our founders picking tomatoes.

Knowing what we know about migrants after the documentary, their wage demands aren’t surprising: they want a raise from 30 cents to 70 cents per pound. But we also know that picking berries can be tedious labor—even just picking enough to reach a couple cents.

Though the Sakumas have accommodated some worker demands, others have been tabled for an unknown period of time. The farm owner, Steve Sakuma, says that he can’t financially afford to raise wages—but overall, he was glad to address the protests quickly.

Many factors (and hands) go into the produce you buy at the market—and sometimes farmers are forced to compromise worker wages and conditions in the process. We’ve found that the situation is far more complex than farm owners simply withholding money from their laborers.

Check out some of our documentary clips (here and here) to learn more about BSB’s experience—and click here for a short history of the Youth Migrant Project. Let us know what you think: about farm management, worker rights, or the situation in Burlington. Leave us a comment!



Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

How to Organize a Global Protest

The pace of change is picking up.

Last week I wrote about the power of youth and social media in shaping protest and instigating change. It seems today as though the move to protest is gathering steam. In Brazil, Chile, and Bulgaria, long-running protests have continued (and in some instances escalated); and in Egypt these past weeks, mass protests eventually led to a military imposition and the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power.

In all cases, different events and different grievances led to the protests. The Brazilian demonstrations began as a protest against increased bus fares, in Bulgaria it was government corruption, and in Chile demands for improved education. What they all have in common is that the protests expand and become general calls to action, a grocery list of changes and demands for a better world.

Trouble is, nobody quite knows how to satiate those generalized demands. Occupy Wall Street died with a whimper at some point in the last year (do you remember exactly when?) because an undefined call for change was never followed up with an actual procedure for it. And in 2011, protestors in Egypt began the Arab Spring and called for the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power—two years later, an eerie scene of déjà-vu plays out on the streets of Cairo.


It’s easier than ever to organize mass rallies. I mean, the protests in Chile are being largely coordinated by teenagers! Thank Facebook and more than that, Twitter, the great faceless equalizer. We can be anybody we want to be in 140 characters or less. Wanna motivate the masses? Pick a hashtag, any hashtag. And simultaneously a wave of discontentment seems to be sweeping the world. We were promised great things but they have yet to arrive. Mid-twenties crises are tough.

This isn’t me condemning or praising these ongoing global protests—just musing on a continuing theme. What I do know, though, is that change is the one constant we can all cling to. And given the choice, I’ll take the better half of change: the positive one.


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Protest Lessons from the Band Pussy Riot

[Editor’s note: While we realize that Pussy Riot is all-around controversial, we’re also curious about the band’s ideology and protest methods.  Please leave a comment after reading and get the discussion going.]

Last month Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, embarked on a hunger strike that lasted 11 days before, remarkably, her demands were met.

Alyokhina is ten months into a two-year prison sentence for “breach of public order motivated by religious hatred.” In reality, the breach was a brief performance in a Moscow cathedral of the song “Punk Prayer- Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Out.”

Religious hatred or political dissent: take your pick.

The hunger strike of Alyokhina began when she alleged that prison officials were attempting to turn the other inmates against her by cracking down on security in advance of her parole hearing. She claimed inmates were denied permission to enter workplaces without escort, whereas before they had been allowed to enter freely. This requirement left inmates locked into their workplaces for hours at a time. Alyokhina was moved to a prison hospital, but ended her hunger strike when officials were able to show her that the security restrictions had been removed and returned to normal.

Pussy Riot was only formed in August 2011, but has had a significant impact on various social justice movements globally. Their manifesto claims: “We are open-source-extremists, the feminist virus infecting your thoughts.” And this idea of “open-source” movements is becoming the modern approach. There was mutual influence between Pussy Riot and Occupy Wall Street in New York, and similarities can be seen between other recent movements, like the Arab Spring. Social media is becoming the platform for protest, and youth are mobilizing it.


While it is always hard to gauge the impact that youth movements can have, it is undeniable that the actions of Pussy Riot, and notably their arrest and subsequent trial, have called attention to the Russia of Vladimir Putin. And since their trial, a glut of new legislation has been passed, clamping down on multiple forms of protest and criticism of the government. These laws are informally known as the Pussy Riot laws, and make illegal the discussion of Pussy Riot protests, distribution of footage of them, and covering one’s face in public, in emulation of the balaclavas worn by band members.

The irony though of clamping down on social protest is that, with modern media, the act of repression only serves to send the message out all the louder. And while perhaps in Russia the group is being somewhat censored, internationally their protest is sparking and leading to a much wider movement.


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.