By Tim Nesbitt of Portland, Oregon. Tim is the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
In the last legislative session, attempts to reduce our voter-approved minimum wage law centered on changes for all workers. But in this session of the legislature, the Oregon Restaurant Association is trying to jam through changes that would boost the profits of its member restaurants while reducing the wages of tipped workers.
The story this year: HB 2409, sponsored by Rep. George Gilman (R-Medford) would cancel scheduled cost-of-living adjustments to the minimum wage for workers who receive $30 per month or more in tips. SB 451, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) would reduce the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $6.90 per hour and freeze it there for workers who receive $30 per month or more in tips.
The rationale for these bills is that tips can provide a generous income far above a poverty wage for servers in higher-priced and high-volume establishments and that these servers don’t need the minimum wage. But that argument in effect asks lawmakers to determine what amount of tips is too much to justify getting the minimum wage. How much might that be?
As one focus group participant stated on this subject, "I have never met a rich waitress."
And as Oregon AFL-CIO Political Director Steve Lanning sees it, "All versions of tip credit proposed in the bills we have seen in this legislative session ask lawmakers to define and find that rich waitress so that you can make sure she returns some of her excess compensation to her employer."
But, he asks, why would legislators want to do this? "They don’t appear to be as eager to try to define and find rich restaurant owners who should be able to pay higher-than-minimum wages," notes Lanning, "much less require that that they do so."
Still, that question from the focus group participant is haunting. So if there are rich waitresses out there who would like to "tip out" some of their wages to their bosses, please let us know. It's last call, and Republicans in the House and Senate are waiting to hear from you.