By Steven Lewis of Eugene, Oregon. Steven is a first-generation member of the American middle class and the first in his extended family to earn a college degree. He works in the private sector.
Imagine going to that restaurant just down the street. Your favorite server busts her tail tonight: keeps your drinks full, brings your food out hot, confirms your order correct despite the unusual substitutions you asked for, smiling and joking all the way. You might be inspired to leave an extra large tip.
Now, imagine your dismay when you are on your way out the door and the restaurant owner comes by and pockets part of the tip you left for your server, right off the table.
This course of action is expected by the Oregon Restaurant Association. Ask yourself: Is that restaurant down the street a member of the ORA? Members agree to support the Association's objectives and interests when they sign up.
The ORA's objectives are perhaps best illustrated by visiting the state capital in Salem, Oregon. Here we will find three bills in the Legislature: HB 2331, which repeals the minimum wage indexing, and HB 2409, which allows for a tip wage in Oregon, and SB 451, which clones HB 2409. Both house bills have gone to the House Business and Labor Committee.
To be clear, the ORA is trying to put those tips in their members' pockets. By exempting their tipped employees from our minimum wage laws, they are taking money away from those tipped employees. Whether they take it away on the front end by confiscating tips, or on the back end by cutting hourly wages, the result is the same.
The citizens of Oregon have overwhelmingly supported the idea that full time employees qualifying for welfare is unconscionable. Oregonians respect the needs of our employers to make ends meet and put a little back into their own pockets, because business owners work hard, but so do the rest of their employees. The minimum wage is a compromise which has been reached directly with the citizens of the state.
The ORA seeks to upset that balance, and they brought their checkbook.
Tip exemptions are special interest give-aways
"Oregon's restaurant owners are not asking for special treatment," the
ORA claims. There is no truth to this statement. The minimum wage applies to everyone in Oregon. The restaurant lobby wants special permission to ignore the voice of the citizens of the state, because their consumers leave change on the table when they leave. This legislation is targeted directly at the restaurant lobby. If a few other 'tipped' employees in other industries get included in the exemption, that does not change the spirit of this targeted give-away.
The ORA also tried to cry that they needed this give-away to stay competitive in the region. Apparently, a whole lot of national chain restaurants think they can open new stores in the region and might select somewhere else to invest. This argument falls flat when you look at the facts. Everyone pays a similar minimum wage on the west coast:
Washington state has a higher minimum wage than
Oregon, and still does not have a tipped employee exemption.
[ href="http://www.restaurant.org/government/state/wage/map_wagerates.pdf">1] It is unlikely we will be losing a lot of new restaurant franchise investment to Washington state, what with their higher minimum wage.
In California a living wage ballot initiative petition has been filed in
the state which would increase the state's current minimum hourly wage
by one dollar by 2007 and would index the state's minimum wage to
inflation. California also has no tipped employee exemption to their
existing minimum-wage law. Conditions don't look good for new restaurant franchise investment down here either, given the risk of a significantly higher minimum wage.
So no, we won't be undercutting our job market by paying our restaurant wait staff the same as we pay the clerk at Macys.
He said, she said (but he lied)
Now the ORA has created fictions about how much money the tipped wait staff make. They go on to suggest that an industry give-away will inspire voluntary pay raises for the non-tipped kitchen staff in restaurants.
The numbers the ORA throws around do not add up. According to the 2000 US Census: Waiters and Waitresses Median Earnings in Oregon $17,137.
According to the Oregon Employment Dept. (Oregon Wage and Income by Occupation, 2004), the average pay including both wages and tips for waiters/waitresses and bartenders last year was $8.50/hour and $8.76/hour respectively. That works out as $17,680 annually. There are more than 55,000 servers in Oregon making less than $18,000 on average per year before taxes.
According to the ORA's Ouija board "the typical server averages roughly $18 per hour as a tipped employee." No studies are cited, no sources are offered, and no methodology is available. By the way, $18 per hour works out to over $32,000 per year before taxes.
Someone is not telling the truth, and the State and Federal government agencies have no vested interest. The State of Oregon's Economic and Community Development Department says the average personal income from all sources in 2003 is approx. $29,000. Apparently, you don't even make as much as the ORA claims the "typical" server hauls in.
When you discount the fiction of the $32,000 earnings of the "typical" server, any hollow claim that non-tipped staff would get pay raises is revealed as nothing more than pillow talk.
Ignoring HB 2331 for a moment, take a look at what it takes to get permission to steal these contentious tips. The sponsors of HB 2409 and SB 451 are: GILMAN, KRUSE, BEYER, GEORGE, MORSE, C STARR, WESTLUND, WHITSETT, WINTERS.
Looking at the political campaign contributions to these legislators from the ORA in the last two election cycles is revealing. Take a look at how much the ORA was willing to spend to buy the ear of your legislator.
Candidate Dist Donations
GILMAN, GEORGE 55 $1,500
KRUSE, JEFF 01 $2,000
GEORGE, GARY 12 $1,000
MORSE, FRANK 08 $15,000
STARR, CHARLES 13 $1,384
WESTLUND, BEN 53 $2,970
WINTERS, JACKIE 10 $14,728
Total for all candidates $38,582
Who do you tip?
There was a public hearing last week on HB 2409. The bill is now in motion, but has not picked up much momentum. This would be a great opportunity to drop a large tack under the ORA's tires, and let the air out of their campaign.
Contact your house representative today. Tell him/her that you value fair wages for all Oregonians. Remind your representative exactly who you leave tips for.