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Tipped workers campaign for higher minimum wage

June 13, 2018
Photo | State House News Service
Photo | State House News Service
Activists supporting a higher sub-minimum wage carried a banner and trays of cupcakes on their march inside the State House.

The cupcakes are complimentary, but the restaurant workers and activists delivering them to legislative leaders want a big boost in pay in return.

Backed by the advocacy group Raise Up Massachusetts, servers detailed the travails they endure because of their reliance on tips. After the speeches, the activists planned to deliver cupcakes and a mock menu where legislative leaders can choose to dine "family style" via the ballot or have a plated meal by passing legislation.

A minimum wage ballot question would boost the sub-minimum wage for front-of-house tipped workers to $9 per hour, while increasing the regular minimum hourly wage to $15. The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development has until July 2 to issue a recommendation on legislation (H 2365/S 1004) that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour with future increases tied to inflation starting in 2022, and it would raise tipped workers' wages to $15.75 by 2025.

"I reject the idea that we should just find a better job. I'm not going to find a better job. I'm going to make the job better," Marie Billiel said in the the hallway between the offices of Senate President Harriette Chandler and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

State law requires restaurants to pay the difference when the $3.75 per-hour sub-minimum wage and a server's tips do not add up to the minimum wage.

"Servers are guaranteed minimum wage," Massachusetts Restaurant Association Director of Government Affairs Steve Clark wrote in an email. "Tipped employees are the highest earners in the restaurant. Often averaging more than 25 or 30 dollars per hour or more. Every time menu prices increase, the server gets an increase. Tipped employee wages increase at a much higher rate than any other restaurant employee."

Jay Gonzalez, a Democrat running for governor, attended the rally and knocked Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent, for not staking out a position on the minimum wage.

"This is something I'll take on as governor. It's another example of an area where Governor Baker not only doesn't provide leadership; he doesn't even take a position," Gonzalez said.

Raise Up last week accused the Retailers Association of Massachusetts – which opposes the minimum wage hike proposal – of holding up negotiations convened to search for a compromise by insisting on provisions like a sub-minimum wage for teenage workers and an end to the requirement that retailers pay time and a half wages to workers on Sundays.

Gonzalez is in Raise Up's camp on those two issues.

"I think we should be increasing the minimum wage for everybody, and it should be the same minimum wage for everybody," Gonzalez said, when asked about the idea of a lower teen wage. Asked about eliminating the Sunday pay requirements, Gonzalez said, "I don't support eliminating that requirement. I think it's important to keep it. There are a lot of workers who are dependent on it right now. The industry is used to dealing with it."

The retailers have backed their own ballot question to lower the sales tax to 5 percent.

On Monday at a Poor People's Campaign rally outside the State House, Billiel talked about how diners, managers and even her fellow employees could affect her pay, making her vulnerable to sexual harassment.

"We cannot risk upsetting any one person in this power structure," Billiel said Monday.

If a restaurant increases their employees' wages to the regular minimum wage, then cooks and other back-of-house workers can begin sharing in the tips, which would be true gratuities on top of ordinary wages rather than base pay, said Mea Johnson, who is a baker at Homestead in Dorchester.

"The customer is paying the wages of the tipped worker," Johnson told the News Service.

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