5 States Weigh Eliminating Tipped Minimum Wage Tier

Five states are now debating whether or not to outlaw paying wait staff less than the federal minimum wage because they also work for tips. The “subminimum” pay is lower for hourly workers who accept gratuities, including bartenders and waitresses.

A law is being reintroduced in Connecticut, and ballot proposals are being considered in Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona to abolish the long-standing two-tiered pay structure.

Activists have said they are exporting the struggle to other states by portraying it as an essential cost-of-living issue during an election year.

The number of states with a flat minimum wage that does not include tips has decreased to seven. The base pay of these workers is lower than the minimum wage in their jurisdictions, even though more than 24 states have raised the subminimum pay for tip earners beyond the federal $2.13 per hour floor, which was last raised in 1991.

Employers are legally obligated to cover any shortfall in tips below the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage; however, experts and campaigners for workers’ rights argue this is not always true.

Supporters of raising the minimum wage to $15.80 per hour are ecstatic after legislators in Chicago voted in October to eliminate the tipped subminimum pay over five years gradually. Similar action was taken less than a year ago in Washington, D.C., when substantial proportions adopted a ballot initiative.

The head of the national advocacy organization One Fair Wage, Saru Jayaraman, stated the situation. She boasted that with the help of the advocacy organization, hundreds of eateries throughout the country had voluntarily done away with subminimum wages and instituted a uniform basic salary for all employees, including tips.

Jayaraman concluded that, as the economy got better and businesses had trouble hiring again, subminimum wage laborers’ tips became less and less of a lifeline, and inflation increased the cost of living for everyone.