Carnegie Mellon University
April 06, 2020

Solidarity During the Coronavirus Crisis

CMU Center for Ethics and Policy researcher created a Virtual Tip Jar that has been replicated to help service workers without work

By Cameron Monteith

Stacy Kish
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-9309

In nationwide efforts to flatten the curve and slow the spread of coronavirus, many service workers find themselves out of work. Waitresses, barbers, and bartenders are without their main source of income: tips.

Danielle Wenner, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and the associate director for the Center for Ethics and Policy, created the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar in response to the high amount of service workers suddenly finding themselves unemployed. Wenner decided to find a way so she and others like her can help local workers as well as the greater Pittsburgh community.

"Those of us who have a steady income and whose jobs aren't threatened by the virus [need to] take responsibility to help support the people around us who aren't as lucky as we are," said Wenner. "One of the most important things that people need to [do is] make sending tips a part of their regular routine."

As of March 27, 2020, more than 7,000 service workers in Pittsburgh have uploaded their contact information into the tip jar.

It's pretty simple. Service industry workers can sign up on the Virtual Tip Jar site by filling in their Venmo or PayPal information. Visitors to the site can search the spreadsheet to find a service worker's name or the name of a local business and send them money directly.

Wenner felt motivated to start the project after local restaurants began moving to takeout only, or even shutting down due to the virus.

"I was thinking about the folks who work at the restaurant up the street from my house," said Wenner. "And I was wondering if there was a way local people like me could still support their bartenders and people they know."

Shortly after Wenner put the project online, a team of individuals from Madison, Wisconsin, quickly replicated the tip jar and made it easy for other cities to copy and implement. Now other cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts and Cincinnati, Ohio, are setting up their own virtual tip jars.

The team in Madison has set their sight on improving the user interface to better organize the thousands of names uploaded into the virtual tip jars.

Wenner hopes individuals will make the Virtual Tip Jar a part of their weekly, if not daily, tasks.

"I was supposed to be getting a haircut next week," said Wenner. "I won't be able to, but I will still be sending my stylist a tip for the haircut I would have been getting."

Wenner thinks that the Virtual Tip Jar showcases the strength of the Pittsburgh community and the communities in which we all reside; the virus and its implications not only affect one individual, but every individual within a local community.

"It's important to emphasize we're all in this together," said Wenner. "My health depends on all of us staying home in the same way people who work in these industries depend on us to help them."

Wenner believes in the capabilities of solidarity.

"There's a pervasive attitude that we're all individual atoms, and I don't think the world functions that way," said Wenner. "Let's all look out for each other. Let's take care of each other."