This newspaper has come out in support of changing the way that restaurant workers are paid. I wish they talked to some of us first.

I’ve been a server for 12 years, so when I learned that last fall’s Question 4, “An act to raise the minimum wage” would repeal the tip credit and impact my income, I did research to figure out how such a system had worked elsewhere and what I’d be earning. My conclusions left me with several concerning questions and findings regarding the future restaurant workers.

I investigated the Department of Labor numbers citing that servers and bartenders made averages of $9.38, $9.32, and as low as $8.72 an hour. Looking at the source of the statistics, this same site claimed dishwashers, hosts, bartender helpers, and cooks (including fast food cooks) all earned more than restaurant servers and bartenders. You don’t need restaurant knowledge to know that sounds incorrect. There were only two complaints registered with Maine’s labor bureau last year — a fraction of a percent of servers, so where were the ones being underpaid?

Anyone in a restaurant can tell you that “front of house” — made up of the people who interact with patrons — earns more than the “back of house” — those who work in the kitchen. Good chefs and cooks are hard to come by these days; you need to pay well to keep experienced ones. The tip credit provides the opportunity to save on server labor and give more to the kitchen. But now that credit is going away and instead the highest earners are going to get a $1 an hour raise every year year for the next seven years.

The earning numbers weren’t taken from actual IRS earnings, but optional surveys that most owners had never seen or filled out. To say they are inaccurate is an understatement, yet they are the main reason our jobs were included in the minimum wage law.

It’s difficult to predict exactly how many restaurants and jobs this may cause Maine to lose, but other cities and states that have raised direct wages have all seen restaurant closures, fewer restaurant jobs, the removal of tipping, and stagnant restaurant growth — all bad outcomes for an industry that was doing fine in the first place. If anyone has a viable plan that can assure us the same won’t happen here, we’re all ears.

Mike Hanson is a member of Restaurant Workers of Maine, a group opposing the phase-out of the tip-credit for some workers.

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