Restaurant owners join workers in backing Question 4

Restaurant owners join workers in backing Question 4

For Heather McIntosh, a single mother working as a restaurant server in Portland, the most important aspect of Question 4 is the raise in the subminimum wage for tipped workers.

“Despite working full time putting food on the tables at the restaurant where I work, I and many women working for tips in this state often struggle to put food on our own tables at home,” said McIntosh at a press conference at Vena’s Fizz House in Portland’s Old Port yesterday. “When your wage is based on tips it’s totally unreliable. You can never save, you can never anticipate what you’ll make, and you can never spend a little extra this week knowing that you’ll make it up with the next paycheck.”

If passed, Question 4 will raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 in 2017 and then by a dollar each year until it reaches $12 in 2020. It would also gradually increase the subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips from $3.75 to $5 in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until it reaches the full minimum wage after 2024. After that, the minimum wage would increase with the cost of living.

McIntosh, who appears in a new ad released by Mainers for Fair Wages, was joined by restaurant owners and national policy experts who argue that raising the minimum wage isn’t just the right thing to do, but it will lead to stronger communities and local economies.

“Our bartenders and servers all start with a base wage of $9 per hour, and we will happily raise our employees’ starting wage to $12 and beyond as the state minimum wage increases,” said Steve Corman, co-owner of Vena’s Fizz House. “I’m very glad to see that so many other restaurant owners agree. More than 60 restaurants have now publicly endorsed Question 4, more than publicly oppose the referendum, and more are endorsing every day.”

In the last week, Vena’s has been joined by half a dozen other Portland restaurants who previously opposed minimum wage increases but are now publicly backing Question 4. More than 60 restaurants across the state have endorsed the referendum.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project and Restaurant Opportunies Centers United backs up their case. It finds that restaurant industry growth and restaurant employment are higher in the seven states that already have one fair wage for tipped workers. Rates of tipping are also just as high or higher than in the rest of the country.

“Raising the subminimum wage for tipped workers is a crucial part of any minimum wage increase seeking to make a meaningful difference for low-wage workers,” said Laura Huizar, a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “Maine’s tipped workers are barely getting by, and they deserve the same chance at economic stability as other workers.”

The median wage for a waiter or waitress in Maine is $9.06 an hour, including tips, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the cost of groceries and rent have gone up for the past eight years, the minimum wage hasn’t. For 181,000 workers in Maine, many of them single parents like Heather, we need to do better,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted. “It’s time for mothers to be able to feed their families and for seniors to be able to afford to retire. It’s time to raise Maine’s minimum wage.”

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