by Mitchell Hirsch
When workers in New York State finally won a long-overdue, and all-too-modest, increase in the minimum wage – from $7.25 to $9.00 by the end of 2015 – the nearly 230,000 tipped workers in the state lost out. Pressure from the restaurant industry kept the base wage for tipped hospitality workers – such as restaurant servers and hotel workers – frozen at just $5.00 per hour.
Instead of raising this sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, the legislature agreed to have the Governor name a special state Wage Board and charge it with recommending changes to this wage.
The Wage Board held its first meeting this week, and workers and advocates are pressing for the Wage Board to recommend eliminating the sub-minimum wage entirely and require all employers to pay all workers, including tipped workers, the full state minimum wage.
“A tip should not be a wage, it’s a gratuity,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which is calling for an end to sub-minimum wages for tipped workers with the 1 Fair Wage Coalition. “It should not be something a worker has to rely on for their livelihood.”
Poverty rates for tipped workers such as restaurant servers, bussers, bartenders and hotel service workers in New York are more than twice as high as those of the overall workforce. New York suffers from the highest inequality in the nation, and it has the highest cost of living of any state in the continental U.S. New York’s tipped workers simply cannot afford to be paid a meager sub-minimum wage. And as the New York Daily News explained today in calling for a significant increase in the tipped wage, cash-and-tip payments are impossible for the state to police.
The Wage Board will hold four hearings around the state in the next three months, with the first on October 3 in Syracuse, NY. The Board is then scheduled to make its recommendations and have the Governor and Department of Labor issue a special wage order by February 15, 2015.
Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington already require employers to pay their tipped workers at least the full minimum wage. As a recent NELP report detailed, in all of those states restaurant jobs are growing even faster than in New York. It’s time for New York to join them and eliminate the lower tipped minimum wage.