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Servers and bartenders create a website to preserve the tip credit

Nineteen employees who depend on tips explain why they don’t want to see that payroll break end for employers.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In a swipe at the pro-union forces lobbying to kill the tip credit, two groups of restaurant servers have joined forces with an employer-backed industry think tank to explain why they’re fighting to preserve a payroll break for their bosses. 

The parties have collaborated on a website where 19 veteran servers attest that their livelihoods and lifestyles would worsen considerably if the credit was taken away, a direct refutation of the argument sounded with vigor by union-backed groups such as Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). The credit allows restaurants and other employers of regularly tipped employees to treat gratuities as part of their wages. Instead of paying at least $7.25 an hour, as federal law mandates, those employers only have to pay $2.13 directly to waiters, waitresses and bartenders, provided those individuals collect at least another $5.12 in tips.

ROC and affiliates such as the Service Employees International Union maintain that paying a lower direct wage to servers is unfair, and contend that the convention subjects waitresses to sexual harassment and other unacceptable behavior because they can’t risk the loss of a tip by resisting. 

Other proponents, including many servers, base their support on purely financial considerations. They figure that killing the credit would bump up the income of waiters, waitresses and bartenders by forcing their employers to pay a full minimum wage in addition to whatever tips they collect.

But that may not be the case, say the servers who posted their videotaped opinions on the new website, Our Industry, Our Voice. Included among the testimonials is one from Joshua Chaisson, a server at the Porthole in Portland, Me., who saw his income erode when Maine dropped its tip credit as the result of a ballot referendum. Customers figured they no longer had to tip, since Chaisson was collecting a full wage, and the higher outlay of his employer did not cover what he lost in gratuities. Servers in Maine banded together and convinced state lawmakers to reinstate the credit. 

They also lent their support to servers in other jurisdictions where a discontinuation of the credit was under consideration, forming a national group called Restaurant Workers of America. A similar group, DC Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance, came together in Washington, D.C., after residents of that jurisdiction voted in a ballot initiative to drop the credit. District lawmakers subsequently reinstated it.  

The two employee groups joined forces with the Employment Policies Institute, a research and public opinion think tank affiliated with well-known restaurant lobbyist and political insider Rick Berman, to launch Our Industry, Our Voice. The Institute is backed by restaurant chains and suppliers.

Testimonials on the site contend that killing the credit would greatly cut into the flexibility that many servers and bartenders value. “When people have a bill due the next day, they can pick up a shift and make that money in cash and be able to pay their bills,” says Jessie Bish, who works at the Glory Days Grill in Hagerstown, Md. 

“Tipped income provides endless opportunity. The better service you provide, the better income you make,” attests Maggie Raczynski of the Outback Steakhouse in Albany, N.Y.

Says Yuridia Alvarado of a Denny’s in San Antonio, ““Working on a tip system allows me to work less hours and earn double the income.”

No employers are included among the industry members who are quoted. 

A provision to kill the federal tip credit was included in the wage act that was recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would raise the federal minimum wage to $15, and mandates that the servers would eventually be entitled to that full amount plus their tips. Few expect the proposal to win approval in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has no intentions of even scheduling a floor vote. 

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