Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University social work graduate Gina DeLuca was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek for advocating to increase the sub-minimum wage for waitresses.
Congress is debating legislation that would increase both the national regular minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and the sub-minimum wage of $2.13 for workers who are tipped.
DeLuca, 42, of Santa Fe graduated May 11 with a 4.0 GPA in social work and will continue her studies in the Highlands University advanced standing master of social work program this fall semester.
Before returning to college to complete her degree at the Highlands University Santa Fe Center, the veteran waitress served tables for 20 years in California and New Mexico.
In 2009, DeLuca launched her Wiser Waitress website and blog www.wiserwaitress.com She said her goal is to raise awareness, help reduce poverty, and improve working conditions of tipped employees.
“Wiser Waitress is not gender biased, and is dedicated to anyone interested in learning more about waiting tables in the states. The word waitress is a powerful souvenir from the past to remind everyone of a time when waiting tables was one of the few trades to allow women to become independent wage earners, without having to take their clothes off,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca said the national sub-minimum wage of $2.13 for waitresses hasn’t changed in 22 years. In addition, wait staff in New Mexico are often required to share their tips with other restaurant workers like cooks and dishwashers who are earning the state’s $7.50 minimum wage.
“Raising the national sub-minimum wage is about protecting families and helping to reduce poverty. New Mexico waitresses also don’t have protection from illegal tip pulling, which is widespread and greatly reduces income. This loophole needs to be closed through new state legislation,” DeLuca said.
The 42-year-old San Francisco native is also a jazz singer. She performed with the San Francisco a cappella group Handmaiden in America. After moving to New Mexico in 2002, DeLuca performed with the Taos jazz ensemble Trinity Quintet.
“Waiting tables allowed me to pursue my jazz singing and music studies. I was drawn to social work because I like the process of advocating for people and helping empower them to know their worth.
“The thing that’s so powerful about social work is that it addresses a person in their environment. If you can provide case management and wraparound services, you can thoroughly support the family and attend to problems like poverty, alcoholism and isolation,” DeLuca said.
She added that music can be used in social work to help facilitate a healing environment – and process difficult emotions — while tapping into creativity.
Highlands University social work professor Andrew Israel said DeLuca is an excellent example of a student who brings her life experience and insight to her social work studies and clinical practice.
“Gina is an exceptional student with a keen analytical mind that helps her see ethical and moral issues clearly, and how to address them,” Israel said. “She developed an impressive website filled with useful information for wait staff to address inequities in their pay and tips.
“I think Gina’s future in the social work profession is limitless, and I hope to some degree will involve community organizing because she has passion for helping people,” Israel said.
Since 2011, DeLuca has interned at the nonprofit Las Cumbres Community Services in Española and Santa Fe. Currently, she is implementing a New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department Home Visit Grant for pregnant and new mothers in Rio Arriba County.
One of her supervisors at Las Cumbres is Racheal Romero, a case manager.
“Gina is a very professional social worker who uses her clinical skills well and researches new ways to help families,” Romero said. “She’s very kind hearted and hard working, always willing to lend a hand with children and parents.
“Gina has an energetic yet calm spirit that brightens every day. She’s always an excellent team player, which is so important at Las Cumbres,” Romero said.
DeLuca’s professional goal is to become a school social worker.
“I had to overcome hardship when I was a child and know that the right kind of support can make a big difference. At Highlands, I’ve also received important support from my social work professors, who have such diverse professional experience and insight,” DeLuca said.