Berkshire County Rep. Proposes Change to Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers

Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Berkshire County, Massachusetts has presented a bill that, if passed, would gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in the state until they are paid the same as other minimum wage workers. This is an addition to the current law, which will increase minimum wage for tipped workers to $3.75 per hour from the current $2.63 by 2017. Standard minimum wage for those employees who do not receive tips was raised to $9 in January.

Massachusetts currently defines tipped employees as those who earn more than $20 per month in tips and who, with minimum wage plus tips, make at least $9 per hour. While employers are legally required to make up the difference for tipped workers who do not reach the $9 per hour threshold, restaurant worker advocates say that many avoid actually doing so. This is especially true for restaurants that employ large numbers of undocumented workers.

The bill is supported through the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Boston advocacy group’s “One Fair Wage” campaign, which seeks to end wage theft by employers. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, this type of theft results in employee loss of more than $50 billion per year.

Beyond the wage theft issue, many labor and gender relations experts believe that a landscape in which employees must work for tips leads to a culture of sexual harassment by customers. According to a report by the ROC, 78 percent of women and 55 percent of men who work in restaurants report experiencing this type of harassment. Their research also shows that restaurant servers, who are traditionally tipped employees, are three times more likely than other types of workers to live in poverty.

As expected, restaurant owners argue that moving away from the current system would make it difficult for them to create jobs because of the resulting economic loss. Stephen Clark, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, argues that in Massachusetts, most servers make at least $13 per hour, with some topping out at as much as $30 per hour.

California and Nevada have both enacted similar legislation.

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