Striking Waffle House Employees' Demand For $25 Per Hour Isn’t Unreasonable — They Actually Deserve More

Waffle House employees endure punishingly low pay, shockingly long hours, and non-stop threats to their safety. Pay them.

screenshots of reasons why waffle house employees deserve twenty five dollars per hour @raiseupthesouth / TikTok; @GAFollowers, @desdollas, @TheDgtalEmpress / Twitter/X

All across the South, employees of iconic breakfast chain Waffle House have been striking for a list of demands that has struck many as completely out of line for a food service industry job. 

But the debate not only posits that certain kinds of workers are more deserving of fair pay than others, it also obscures what employees say are the realities of the job — and the chain's notoriety for being a downright dangerous place to work.


Striking Waffle House employees deserve $25 per hour — in fact, they deserve more.

Striking Waffle House workers, who first began walking off the job all over the South in July 2023, recently released their list of demands from the company before returning to work. 

The demands are wide and varied, and include bracing requests like round-the-clock security as well as an end to the company's practice of deducting employees' meals from their checks. But the demand that has seemed to most stick in people's collective craw is their demand for a $25 per hour rate of pay.

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All over social media, the demand has struck many people as absurd and unfair, with many asking why people working in a diner deserve to be paid such a high hourly wage when many specialized careers, including those in fields like academia and education, rarely pull down such a wage. 

The notion that one group of workers shouldn't be fairly paid because another group of workers isn't, is absurd.


It's not like Waffle House is donating the money it's saving by not paying its workers to struggling teachers who are now going to be left in the lurch if "people flipping waffles" are making $25 an hour. This argument makes no sense in the first place, aside from being classist and snobbish.

But given the working conditions Waffle House employees are forced to endure, and especially the economic forces at hand in 2023, $25 an hour is a downright charitable request.


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Waffle House employees regularly deal with a hostile and unsafe working environment that has spawned an entire genre of viral videos.

If you spend any time on social media, you've likely seen a video from December 2022 of a fight breaking out in a Texas Waffle House. The employee thankfully catches a chair hurled at her head by a disgruntled customer after being asked to leave the restaurant.

The video went wildly viral in part because of the shockingly violent nature of the assault.


But it also went viral for another reason: because videos of fights breaking out among customers and customers attacking Waffle House employees have become an entire genre of viral video unto themselves — so much so that it has sparked investigations by international news organizations like The Independent in the UK, where they don't even have Waffle Houses.

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Most Waffle House employees are paid far below minimum wage and are subject to unfair pay deductions for things like meals.

If having to know how to fight and deflect flying chairs in order to serve people their late-night omelettes doesn't convince you that Waffle House employees deserve $25 per hour, consider that Waffle House employees are paid far below minimum wage — like employees at most American restaurants are. 


With rates like $2.13 an hour being common because tips are meant to make up the shortfall, the system is flawed, as any restaurant worker will tell you. 

But even Waffle House employees who aren't relying on tips are paid unfairly. One striking Waffle House employee reported being paid just $16 per hour after 24 years at the company, despite surviving robberies and being held at gunpoint.



That would all be bad enough, but Waffle House workers have also reported astonishingly long hours due to the widespread staffing shortages the restaurant industry is still grappling with after the pandemic, as well as shocking company policies like mandatory shift meals being deducted from employees' paychecks whether they eat them or not.




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Adjusted for inflation and productivity growth, the federal minimum wage would be nearly $22 an hour. Instead, it has steadily declined since 1968.

In 1968, the government made a change to the federal minimum wage that has ended up, all these years later, being a perfect illustration of everything wrong with America's economy and its approach to the workforce. Instead of tying the minimum wage to both inflation and economic productivity, the government eliminated the latter from the equation.

As the table below from the Economic Policy Institute shows, this has resulted in a minimum wage that, when adjusted for inflation, has gone down by more than $2 per hour since 1968. Put another way, the value of an hour's minimum wage work has never reached its 1968 peak.


table showing minimum wagePhoto: Economic Policy Institute

That is absurd and indefensible on its face, before even factoring in the shocking inflation we have seen since 2020 — which has been proven to be in part due to the corporate avarice of so-called "greedflation" rather than simple economic forces.


tweet about how waffle house workers deserve $25 per hourPhoto: @Sir_Fahrenheit / X

What's more, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, if the government had not made the changes it made in 1968, minimum wage would now be $21.50 per hour — not all that far off from the $25 per hour Waffle House employees are demanding.

Given this perspective, it's hard not to feel like the people furious at Waffle House employees for demanding $25 an hour aren't projecting.


tweet about why waffle house workers deserve $25 per hourPhoto: @stealthygeek / X

As many on X (aka Twitter) have pointed out, you should be directing that ire at the elected representatives and economic advisors who have created this mess and have continued reifying it year after year so that minimum wage workers are now making less than they made in 1968, for God's sake — and you should also be demanding better from your own employers.

Or, failing that, you could always direct your aggravations at Waffle House's Chairman Joe Rogers, because all those mandatory employee meal reductions and $2.13 an hour pay rates have certainly paid off. In 2021, while his employees were dodging thrown chairs, he became a billionaire


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.