The fight over raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tip credit has moved from the State House in Maine to the US Capitol. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would hike the minimum wage and the tipped wage to $15 an hour.
Fortunately, most of Maine’s Congressional delegation has steered clear of the debate, having learned from our 5,000-worker uprising in 2017 that kept our tipping system intact and, in our observation, saved jobs.
Tipped workers are hoping for a pragmatic advocate in House Rep. Jared Golden, who entered national politics in one of the most polarized times in our recent history. He hasn’t sponsored the federal tip credit elimination bill, which suggests he may understand the math. It can’t be easy for a freshman Representative from Maine to make an impact on the gridlock in Washington, barring one issue: Saving the tip credit from his well-intentioned, but misguided Democratic colleagues.
In 2017, Golden’s own constituents spoke loud and clear in one of the largest hearings in Maine’s legislative history to save the tip credit because it saves good-paying jobs in one of Maine’s largest industries, with no degree required.
Both of us were drivers in the fight to save Maine’s tip credit as part of the Restaurant Workers of Maine, and our message was one of simple math: You cannot artificially quadruple a person’s required wage without repercussions. The anecdotal and empirical evidence is clear: States that dramatically hike their minimum wages and disallow taxed tips to be considered income have seen reduced hours , job losses, business closures, and/or a switch to counter service after customers reject huge menu price increases.
Consider New York’s experience: Over the past four years, in New York City restaurants that employ 10 or more workers, the minimum wage has increased to $15 an hour from $10.50. This is a substantial 43 percent increase. At the same time, the tipped minimum wage increased by 50 percent to $10 an hour. Last year, the city lost 6,000 jobs for full-service restaurant workers. In a recent survey conducted by the New York City Hospitality Alliance, nearly 75 percent of restaurant owners said they are reducing employee hours this year.
The acknowledgment of simple math seems to have made its way to legislators, even in so-called blue states. Six states — California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — and the District of Columbia are moving to $15 as their minimum wage and all of them, with the exception of California, have retained their tipped wage structure because it works and the workers in the industry support it.
One of these tipped workers — Simone Barron, from Seattle — testified before Congress earlier this year. In a hearing in the House Education and Labor Committee, Barron described how her city’s rising minimum wage (without a tip credit) had forced her employer to eliminate tipping. The loss of income meant Barron had to take on a second job to replace the income she once earned from one job. She’s one of the thousands of tipped workers nationally who are fighting to protect their pay.
If the tens of thousands of servers we’re working with are not asking for the elimination of the tipped wage system, then who’s in favor of it? It’s certainly not the workers we engage with at Restaurant Worker of America.
We were at the forefront of our successful 2017 fight in Maine, and we did our research. We urge Representative Golden to now listen to the actual workers who want to keep the tipping system in place. Math is not a partisan issue. Believe us when we say, thanks but no thanks. We want to save our jobs by saving the tip credit.
Wendyll Caisse is a small business consultant, former restaurant owner, and former tipped employee. Carrie Smith is a server and bartender. Both are board members of the Freeport-based Restaurant Workers of America.