Minimum wage rollback could hurt Bay Area waiters, bartenders

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Shawn Gaynor's picture
Tip jar reading 'trickle down economics'
The California State assembly is considering a bill sponsored by the California Restaurant Association that would reduce the minimum wage to $9/hr for workers who also earn tips. Photo by Steve Lyon via Flickr.

By Shawn Gaynor

Like a mesmerizing bar trick that ends with money disappearing from the table, a new bill making its way through the California State Assembly would undo for some Bay Area workers recent pay gains achieved though locally passed minimum wage increases.

Assembly Bill 669 would roll back the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour for workers like waiters and bartenders, who earn tips as part of their income, provided their earnings including tips averaging greater than $15 per hour.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), takes specific aim at service workers earning tips and, making no other changes to the state minimum wage law.

According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, service workers in these jobs are among the regions lowest paid workers – the very workers that voters were trying to help when municipal minimum wage laws were passed last November in ballot referendums in San Francisco and Oakland.

Those referendums were widely popular with voters, both passing by large margins. The Oakland minimum wage measure, passed by a landslide of 81 percent of voters, raised the minimum wage there to $12.25 in March. Under San Francisco's voter approved minimum wage law, the local minimum wage will rise to $12.25 on May, 1.

It would take passing new voter initiatives in each city to undo the state rules changes if the state assembly bill is passed. Though new measures would likely pass voter muster again, workers earning tips would loose wages out of their paychecks in the interim.

The California Restaurant Association, which has lobbied hard over the years against local and statewide minimum wage increases, has publicly endorsed the bill saying, “The bill is designed to limit the fiscal impact of continued minimum wage increases for highly compensated workers.”

The association donated $8,200 to Daly's 2014 State Assembly campaign, the most money they passed out to any State Assembly candidate in 2014, and more than they spent on any candidate not seeking a statewide office last year.

A separate bill aimed at raising the minimum wage for low income workers in California is making its way through the California State Senate. That bill (SB-03), sponsored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would raise the state wide minimum wage to $11 an hour in January 2016 and to $13 by January of 2017. That measure would leave in place higher minimum wages that have been passed by some cities in California and would link statewide minimum wage increases to inflation after 2017.

If however, if assemblyman Daly's bill is also passed, SB-03 would be impacted by the measure to reduce the minimum wage for those earning tips.

43 states already have alternative minimum wage laws for employees who earn tips, but California's historically strong labor protections have thus far prevented the loophole from gaining ground here.

 

 

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