Three things your restaurant boss won’t tell you about raising Maine’s minimum wage

Three things your restaurant boss won’t tell you about raising Maine’s minimum wage

The subminimum wage for tipped workers is a shady and often-misunderstood aspect of Maine’s labor laws. Most Mainers don’t realize that workers who receive at least $30 a month in tips can be paid a base wage of just $3.75 by their employers. This confusion has been exploited by opponents of raising the minimum wage, who have spread misinformation about the minimum wage and have even gone so far as to claim that raising their wages will somehow hurt workers like restaurant servers.

This propaganda campaign is part of an attempt by groups like the National Restaurant Association, which is funded by large chain restaurants with business models based on paying poverty wages, to defeat the minimum wage referendum in Maine this November.

If passed, Question 4 will raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by one dollar each year until it reaches $12 in 2020. After that, it would increase with the cost of living. The subminimum wage of $3.75 an hour would increase to $5 in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until it eventually reaches the full minimum wage, around nine years from now.

Here’s what anti-minimum wage lobbyists aren’t telling you:

Of course servers earn more when you raise the subminimum wage

Contrary to claims of some minimum wage opponents, raising the minimum wage for tipped workers doesn’t affect tipping. Tipping rates are the same or higher in the seven states with no subminimum wage for tipped workers (all of which also already have a higher overall minimum wage than Maine). Jurisdictions with some of the highest rates of tipping in country, like San Francisco and Alaska, do not have a subminimum tipped wage. Of course this makes sense, as surveys in Maine, like the rest of the country, show most diners don’t know restaurant servers currently make just $3.75 an hour in base pay (and are often horrified when they find out). They’re tipping based on good or bad service, not the base wage of their waiter or waitress.

Similarly, we shouldn’t need research to tell us that raising the wages of servers raises their take-home pay, but here’s some anyway. Of course servers and other tipped workers will make more when their base wage goes up.

Restaurants are thriving in states with one fair minimum wage

Restaurant server Heather McIntosh speaks at an Augusta press conference.

In March of last year, while testifying against a minimum wage increase before the Maine state legislature, the head of the Maine Restaurant Association said that we should watch as Seattle began to implement their $15 minimum wage for all workers and claimed that “many Seattle restaurants are just closing their doors or moving to nearby communities anticipating the slow demise of their business.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Seven months later, in a story headlined “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the cuts that never came,” the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that “dozens of new restaurants have opened in the city since April 1, including many new eateries run by the law’s fiercest critics.”

Every time the minimum wage or the subminimum wage has been increased, opponents have made similar claims that it will decimate businesses, and particularly restaurants. Those predictions have never come true.

The National Restaurant Association’s own data shows that projected 2016 restaurant sales in the seven states without a subminimum tipped wage average 6.5 percent, a rate which exceeds both the projected national average of 5 percent and Maine’s projected sales growth rate of 3.7 percent. Restaurant employment in one fair wage states is similarly expected to grow an average rate of 10.7 percent in the next ten years, much higher than Maine’s 7.6 percent.

Raising the subminimum wage is incredibly popular with voters, tipped workers and even some restaurant owners

Question 4 currently has a 32-point lead in the polls. Mainers fundamentally believe in fair wages and increasing the subminimum wage is one of the most popular aspects of the initiative.

Restaurant servers feel especially strongly about this issue. When the owner of a high-end Portland restaurant came out against the referendum, five of her servers quit in protest and wrote an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald explaining why.

Groups representing restaurant workers and advocating for their rights, including the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the National Employment Law Project, strongly support raising and eventually eliminating the subminimum wage. They have endorsed and worked to pass Question 4.

Because so many tipped workers are women (79% in Maine) groups advocating for women, including the Maine Women’s Lobby and the National Women’s Law Center have endorsed Question 4.

“Creating one fair wage would mean that a woman’s earnings would depend on one predictable factor, the number of hours she works, rather than on the generosity of her customers. It also would mean that no woman would have to put up with unwanted sexual attention just to support herself and her family,” wrote Maine Women’s Lobby executive director Eliza Townsend in the Bangor Daily News.

Because so many tipped workers are parents (mostly moms), groups that represent children like the Maine Children’s Alliance and Every Child Matters have also endorsed the referendum. The parents of 63,000 kids would get a raise with Question 4.

Finally, even many Maine restaurants have also joined the campaign. 60 restaurants across the state recently held a “Fair Wage Restaurant Week” to show their support. As two full-service restaurant owners put it, writing in the Portland Press Herald:

“The most fundamental reason we support raising the wage is that we respect our employees and believe they deserve it. We run family businesses, not international chains, and our workers aren’t disposable. Food wouldn’t be cooked or served, and our restaurants wouldn’t succeed without them. They work hard for us; they should be able to support their families and save up for the future.”

Photo: Maine restaurant servers speak in support of Question 4

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