By John Ramos

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – Comedienne Amy Poehler took Saru Jayaraman to the Golden Globes as her date.

Since Poehler worked in restaurants before she made it big, she wanted to highlight Jayaraman’s work at UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center that shows waitresses making low wages, and relying on tips, are often victims of harassment from customers and employers.

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On Sunday night, the Golden Globe Awards kicked off with a back-and-forth bit between host Seth Meyers and Poehler.

The subject was treatment of women in the workforce, an area that the woman sitting next to Poehler deals with everyday.

“Sitting next to Amy is Saru Jayaraman,” said Meyers. “Give it up for Saru everyone.”

Saru Jayaraman is director of UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center, a group studying the conditions of workers in the restaurant industry.

She was chosen to be Poehler’s guest because of her research documenting the problems faced by food service workers — mostly women — who work primarily for tips.

“Her greatest lack of power comes from the fact that her income often relies on pleasing the customer,” Jayaraman said.

California already requires restaurant waitstaff be paid full minimum wage in addition to tips, but many states do not.

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In some, those who collect tips are guaranteed an hourly rate of only $2.13.

Jayaraman says being reliant on tips pressures women to put up with what she says is rampant sexual harassment on the job.

She said they’ve found that the higher the wage, the farther women get away from depending on tips and the more power they have in the workplace.

She’s pushing for legislation that would require that tipped workers across the country be paid the same, full minimum wage as California workers.

But Kristine Seinsch, who began as a waitress and now owns her own catering business, says raising workers salaries won’t prevent harassment, but it will drive small restaurants out of business.

Seinsch is the owner of ACT Catering.

“The restaurant industry will suffer. They will suffer,” Seinsch said. “Because you take the profit margin out of the restaurant.”

Jayaraman says working for tips maintains a “customer is king” culture that victimizes women.

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The question is whether a political battle can actually change human nature.