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$2.13 an Hour for Washing Dishes? Servers Sue Over Side Work

Ask any restaurant server or bartender about side work and you are liable to get an earful. Sweeping floors, washing dishes, making salad? These are tasks that should pay minimum wage, but servers and bartenders routinely do them for as little as $2.13 per hour.

On Wednesday, a Ruby Tuesday server sued the restaurant chain claiming she is required to do excessive side work in a federal lawsuit she hopes will become a class action involving thousands of workers at 658 restaurants nationwide. The case is one of several, targeting some of the country's largest restaurant chains, filed after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 let stand a ruling allowing Applebee's employees to sue over side work. That suit ended in an undisclosed settlement with over 5,500 workers.

Read More: Seattle Eatery's Early Move to $15 Minimum Wage is a Rousing Success

Ruby Tuesday, with headquarters in Maryville, issued a statement saying, "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are committed to our Ruby Tuesday team members, and we will be providing a vigorous defense of the company on this matter in the appropriate forum."

Ask the waiter: What you should know about dining out 4:04

Untipped workers at McDonald's, Taco Bell and other restaurants have made headlines recently with their "Fight for $15" campaign, demanding that the fast food companies pay them at least $15 an hour. And raising the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, has become the subject of debate among policy makers, with some states moving their rates to $15 per hour.

But the national minimum wage for tipped workers is just $2.13 per hour, a rate that hasn't changed in 25 years, although some states require a higher wage. Workers are allowed to be paid so little by their employers because tips are considered part of their wages.

Read More: Push for Higher Minimum Wage Sparks New Concerns Over Enforcement

Chris Hall, an attorney with the Ruby Tuesday case, said many tipped workers aren't aware of the Department of Labor rule that they should spend no more than 20 percent of their time doing untipped work like wiping tables and polishing silverware.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour division, between 2013 and 2015, investigators found tip credit violations in over 1,500 cases, resulting in nearly $15.5 million in back wages.

But workers and advocates say many people are afraid to complain about problems.