Tipped Workers Fight Against Their Sub-Minimum Wage
BOSTON - Marco Angelone moved to Boston from Italy about seven years ago. In his country, it is not part of the culture to tip a waiter or waitress. The server’s wage covers his or her labor. In the United States, he has discovered, that is not true.
Angelone, 27, lives in Jamaica Plain and has worked in the restaurant industry for a little over two years now. He is a back server, which means he splits tips with the waiters and waitresses working in the dining room. This year, his wage went up to $3 per hour, from the $2.63 it had been when he got his first job.
The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in Massachusetts held at $2.63 per hour from 1999 until this year, when a major campaign for a higher overall minimum wage brought the floor up to $9 per hour for other workers. For them, it will eventually rest at $11 per hour in 2017. Tipped workers hit the 2017 ceiling at $3.75 per hour.
When tipped workers don’t make the statewide minimum wage during a shift, their employers are supposed to pay the difference between what rate their tips brought them to and the legal minimum. Many employers, including Angelone’s, don’t always make good on that promise.
“That’s unfortunate but that’s what’s happening,” Angelone said.
The Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor investigated 9,000 workplaces between 2010 and 2012 in the restaurant industry, finding that nearly 84 percent did not pay their workers the extra money they were due when tips didn’t cut it.
The Restaurant Opportunity Center United, of which Angelone is a local member, aims to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. ROC United members describe instances where employers illegally take a cut of tips at the end of the night or deduct credit card fees from tips.
But the vulnerability to such situations isn’t ubiquitous in the United States. Seven states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have passed new laws bringing all restaurant workers up to the state’s minimum wage. According to ROC United, the average menu prices in these seven states are not higher than in other states. And they also have higher restaurant sales per capita and higher average employment growth among tipped workers.
Maddie Conway is a policy organizer with the Boston chapter of ROC United. She said a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers puts women in an especially precarious position and contributes to a wider gender pay gap. Nearly 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women, according to statistics compiled by ROC United. These women are 30 percent more likely to experience poverty than their male colleagues.
Relying on tips puts women in situations where they do not feel empowered to stand up to sexual harassment from customers. Conway pointed to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics showing the restaurant industry accounting for a disproportionate share of sexual harassment claims, and those instances are only the minority that get reported.
“That dynamic is really insidious and really a byproduct of this two-tiered system,” Conway said.
Restaurant workers in Massachusetts are fighting for “one fair wage.” New legislation was recently introduced that would gradually bring up the tipped minimum wage by about $1.50 per year until it reaches parity with the regular minimum wage. ROC United isn’t taking a stand on what should happen to tips if and when that time comes.
Perhaps, like in Angelone’s Italy, tipping the wait staff will become a thing of the past.
For more information about the fight for “one fair wage,” visit livingofftips.com.