07 Jul Should Massachusetts restaurants be required to pay tipped …
Restaurant industry employee who has worked in Watertown and other Greater Boston communities; member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Boston.
The day Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier introduced the One Fair Wage bill, I was thrilled. This legislation would provide tipped workers in Massachusetts a livable wage before tips, easing the levels of both poverty and sexual harassment in our industry.
I have been a server for eight of my 12 years in the restaurant industry. I started at $2.63 per hour and more than a decade later, the tipped wage has only risen to $4.35. I worked slow overnight shifts, sometimes making as little as $30 in tips, some of which I had to give to other staff members. With that pay, you needed to work nearly 80 hours weekly to make ends meet. I saw some women do just that.
Of course, a small fraction of tipped workers like the current system. In my experience, these tend to be white men in high-end establishments. Most tipped workers are women, many of them people of color and immigrants, according to a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Often they work in chain and no-frill restaurants, where tips can be affected by something as arbitrary as the weather. One Fair Wage would guarantee fair payment for all hours worked.
At one restaurant where I worked as a server, I felt completely disempowered in the face of sexual harassment due to the two-tiered wage system. I was kissed against my will, shown pornography, and more. When I refused these sexual advances from managers and co-workers, I was given small, unprofitable sections in the restaurant and my customersâ meals were purposely made poorly, resulting in fewer tips. I was left with a choice: accept the harassment or gamble my livelihood.
In the seven states with One Fair Wage, restaurant workers are only half as likely to experience sexual harassment, according to my groupâs study. There are so many young women whose first job will be in a restaurant. Unless we pass One Fair Wage, they will face the same choice I did.
We have a moral obligation to protect our workers and eliminate systems that keep them impoverished and vulnerable. Massachusetts can demonstrate that commitment by passing this legislation.
President & CEO, Massachusetts Restaurant Association, based in Westborough; Framingham resident
Tipped employees in Massachusetts are already earning the full minimum wage. Both federal and state law require employers to make up the difference to ensure the employee is paid minimum wage for all hours worked.
Tipped employees are the highest compensated workers in any restaurant setting, earning well above minimum wage, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many average $25, $35, and sometimes $50 per hour!
This compensation model has allowed the highest percentage of employees to earn the highest average wage. Do you know who likes this system the most? The tipped employees themselves! A survey of tipped employees from industry publication Upserve determined that 97 percent prefer the current model of base wage plus tips over straight hourly compensation. If given the opportunity, tipped employees would not trade places with any hourly compensated employees in their restaurants.
The proposal to require employers to pay tipped workers the full minimum wage is not coming from servers, but from activists outside the restaurant industry. One national labor group, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, has pushed the narrative that the tipping system needs to go away, One of their organizers recently quipped âHow do you unionize a workforce that only gets $2.13 an hour?â
Some servers have rallied to say âleave us aloneâ because the current system works for them. A recent Maine op-ed was entitled âI am a restaurant server and I donât need anyone to save me!â At our association, we have heard from servers pleading with us to help stop this legislation.
Much has been made about the seven states that do not permit restaurant owners to claim a tip credit [the practice of paying workers less than minimum wage and making up any difference]. Contrary to what the activists would lead you to believe, this is not a recent development, these states have not had a tip credit for decades.
According to federal data, the average Massachusetts tipped employee earns more than a dollar per hour more than California servers who are paid the state minimum wage. The current compensation model works for tipped employees because they can maximize their income in the relative short hours that come with being a restaurant server.
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