Democratic lawmakers today rolled out a legislative attempt to raise the minimum wage of tipped workers to the same level as workers in other industries — a move the restaurant industry criticized as a way to “kick (Michigan’s) second-largest private employer in the teeth.”

In a press conference, Sen. Coleman YOUNG II (D-Detroit) and Rep. Pam FARIS (D-Clio) rolled out bicameral legislation that would incrementally increase the hourly minimum wage of tipped workers, which is currently set at 38 percent of the state’s minimum wage. 

Supporters said tipped staff in the restaurant industry often struggle harder to make ends meet and are forced to deal with issues such as sexual harassment on the job in order to earn satisfactory tips. 

Under the legislation, tipped worker’s wages would be raised to 59 percent of the minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2016, and 80 percent of the minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2017. On Jan. 1, 2018, the bills would eliminate the tipped minimum wage altogether, but would still leave room for additional tips. 

Currently, minimum wage for tipped workers is 38 percent of the state’s overall minimum wage. The Legislature last year voted through a plan to bump the state’s minimum wage to $9.25 by 2018 after pressure from a citizens’ group that had planned to turn in a ballot initiative to bump the rate to $10.10 per hour (See “Minimum Wage Pumped To $9.25 On Eve Of Ballot Sigs Submission,” 5/27/14). 

If a tipped worker were to earn more than the minimum wage, “good for them,” said Faris, who once worked as a waitress. “It brings you up, and you can continue to go from there. 

“The restaurants are not going to close their doors because someone is making a minimum wage,” she said. 

But Justin WINSLOW of the Michigan Restaurant Association disagreed, asserting in a statement that eliminating the tipped minimum wage would “dramatically increase their overhead and unequivocally cause some restaurants to close their doors.” 

The law already provides adequate protection for tipped workers, Winslow said, by requiring employers to provide the difference if employees receive less than the full minimum wage. He added that many tipped employees already make more than the minimum wage. 

“Apparently Senator Young and Representative Faris saw the lowest unemployment in Michigan in over a decade and decided something must be done to stop it,” he said. 

Citing the relative success of the seven other states that have implemented similar programs, Young said the legislation would help fill in the gaps for struggling tipped staff without destroying the restaurant industry. 

“Instead of the skies falling and the results the industry lobbyists will claim, those states actually have higher restaurant sales, higher employment growth and affordable menu prices,” he said. 

Earlier in the day, about 25 low-wage restaurant worker supporters protested outside of the Michigan Restaurant Association to criticize Click to add MIRS Bill Hound HB 4052, which they say would erase the possibility for paid sick-leave for restaurant workers, among other measures they see as anti-worker. 

Danielle ATKINSON with Mothering Justice — a group that supports paid-sick leave policies, family medical leave insurance, more affordable childcare and a minimum wage boost to $10.10 — spoke out against the bill this morning. 

“This type of policy hurts our communities and it hurts our families,” Atkinson said today. 

A former manager at a sushi lounge, Andrea VELASQUEZ, also talked at length about how she was fired from her job after being hospitalized for six days. She said her boss cited her “attitude” as the reason he let her go, though she said he originally admitted that it was because of her health. 

“First he said it had to do with my health,” she said, “then when I told him it was illegal, he said it was my attitude.”  

Activists like Velasquez and Atkinson want more state protections to soften the blow of a harsh economy and a precarious job-environment for low-wage workers.

Posted in MIRS