I am a server and have worked in the restaurant industry for 21 years, since I was 18 years old.

Every day, I come into the restaurant and spend an hour cleaning, prepping and doing other side work. I serve everyone with the same courtesy and professionalism, whether it’s a slow Monday or I’m in the weeds on a Saturday night.

I work my hardest to make sure everyone who I serve leaves satisfied, but most days I’m not able to leave my job satisfied. That’s because I am paid only $3.75 an hour by my employer.

It doesn’t matter that I am a mother and child care is incredibly expensive, or that I have bills and rent to pay. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been working for my employer or how high my sales are, my employers will always pay me as little as they can.

I can’t blame them, either. Why wouldn’t they pay us as little as possible if it serves their bottom line?

To our employers, tipped workers are expendable and easily replaceable – especially in a food city like Portland – so if we complain or ask for more, they have no trouble letting us go.

When you’re a career server, you’re in a different position from those who are working in the industry a few hours on the weekends or to supplement another income. When you’re working for tips, you’re dependent on more than just your skills as a server to get by. You need to please all of your customers, because their tips are the only income you’ll see (my hourly wage is usually entirely eaten up by taxes).

You need to please your managers because you’ll make ends meet only if you get the busy shifts. You need to please the kitchen staff so they don’t hold up your food, and you need to please the bussers and the bartenders because they are the ones helping you push drink sales and turn tables.

As a server, you are beholden to everyone in the restaurant to make things run smoothly. However, no matter how well you tip out your bartenders and bussers, no matter how much harassment you put up with from the back-of-house staff, no matter how flexible you make your schedule in order to keep your weekend shifts or how much unpaid side work you get finished, they still aren’t the ones paying you.

The customers are the ones who pay our wages and put food on our families’ tables; our customers, however, are not obliged to tip us or abide by employment laws. That means that I never know how much money I will walk away with each night, and when you’re raising a 7-year-old and working long hours, that is unacceptable.

Like many other career servers who work in Maine year round and full time, these are the months when I will make the bulk of my income. When your income is dependent on weather and foot traffic, you might pull in $200 on a warm Saturday night in July or make only $20 in tips for a whole shift any day in February.

I currently work two different serving jobs, trying to schedule as many full days as possible, in order to make sure I can make it through the winter.

I work most days from 8 a.m. until midnight; I spend about $500 every month on child care and am lucky that my dad and stepmom can watch my son if I get called in at the last minute. I work in one of Portland’s top fine-dining restaurants, and I still struggle to keep my family afloat.

Right now, advocacy groups, labor groups, political figures, community members and servers are working on several different minimum-wage initiatives, including a $12-an-hour minimum wage and elimination of the tip credit for servers by 2020, as well as a separate initiative in Portland that would bring the minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

The important thing tying these two together is that they seek to support working folks with a living wage and make sure tipped workers have one fair wage on which they can rely.

Hardworking people in Maine deserve more than $7.50 an hour for their time and their commitment to their jobs, but moving forward, we need to make sure all workers are included in efforts to raise the minimum wage, because all minimum-wage work should be done with dignity.