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$2.13 Often Means Zero-Dollar Paychecks for Tipped Workers

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Laura ClawsonThe basic facts of the tipped worker minimum wage are appalling:

  • It’s $2.13 an hour, and has been since 1991, because whenever the minimum wage is raised, the restaurant industry launches a massive lobbying effort to keep tipped workers from being included.
  • The median wage for tipped workers is $8 an hour, and one in five lives in poverty.
  • While restaurants are supposed to make up the difference when workers’ tips don’t raise them to the full minimum wage of $7.25, they often don’t.

What the absurdly low tipped worker minimum wage combined with restaurants not following the law by bringing workers up to minimum wage when their tips fall short means is this:

Like millions of Americans across the United States, 23-year-old Anna Hovland worked a waitressing job earlier this year to make ends meet. Her restaurant in Washington, DC, paid her the local minimum wage for tipped workers, $2.77 an hour, which meant that after taxes, her paycheck was usually zero. Her tips, never dependable, ranged from $20 to $200 a shift. “In a city as expensive as DC, I’ve been able to make ends meet by the skin of my teeth,” Hovland says. “Sometimes it will only be in the last week or two of a month that I’ll realize I’ve made enough to pay all my bills.” […]Hovland tells Mother Jones that before she got in touch with the Restaurant Opportunities Center last fall—to find out why she was getting zero-dollar paychecks—she had no idea that her employer was supposed to make up the difference in tips. “We never logged our tips or reported them to our employers,” she says, unless they were on credit cards. She adds, “Even after I shared information about the minimum wage difference with coworkers, nobody felt comfortable asking employers about it.”

Forcing workers to ask to be paid the minimum wage is a recipe for wage theft. Any worker who asks has to know that they’re putting a target on their back and any halfway savvy employer knows that, while they can’t admit they’re firing a worker for asking to be paid minimum wage, it won’t be hard to find an excuse to fire the worker for something else.

A few states have the same minimum wage for all workers, and recently, Hawaii included tipped workers when it raised its minimum wage to $10.10. So clearly a tipped minimum wage above $2.13 doesn’t spell doom for the restaurant industry, contrary to the industry’s lobbying efforts. Whereas the current state of affairs genuinely does spell poverty for an unacceptable number of workers.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on May 12, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


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