City Accidentally Gives Tipped Workers a Raise, Immediately Regrets It

In Depth

Recently, Portland, Maine* decided they wanted to get in on some of that sweet, sweet minimum wage raising action everyone has been in on lately. When they found out they had unintentionally raised wages for tipped workers as part of the process, though, they were immediately aghast, because fuck tipped workers, they’re not people, I guess.

Via Josh Eidelson at Bloomberg, the Portland city council voted earlier this month to raise the minimum wage by $2.60, to $10.10. Sounds good, right? I mean, not good enough relative to other countries which treat low-wage earners like human beings with a right to live with dignity, but still, it’s something. A day after they passed the ordinance, though, they realize they done made an oopsie by raising tipped workers’ hourly wages from $3.75 to $6.35.

The sad thing is that with a base rate of $3.75/hour, Maine was already on the more progressive side of the tipped wage scale, which can go as low as $2.13/hour because the National Restaurant Association’s lobbyists made damn sure it was never tied to inflation. Technically, restaurants are supposed to make up the difference between the minimum wage and the actual earned wage if servers wind up making less than the minimum in tips. Thanks to non-existent oversight or regulation of industry practices, restaurants all too frequently avoid actually fulfilling this obligation—and even when they do, the vast majority find ways to exploit it in order to wrench more or less free labor out of their employees.

Now, the Portland City Council is working on a way to undo the ordinance, because haha, fuck food service workers. The most telling quote from Eidelson’s piece has to be this one, emphasis mine:

“It’s very confusing,” says Greg Dugal, chief executive officer of the Maine Restaurant Association. “For somebody that doesn’t even know that a tipped person makes less of a wage than a regular employee, they’re confused right out of the gate, because that doesn’t make any sense to them.”

Dugal is correct: the idea that tipped workers should make less of a wage than regular employees makes absolutely no sense to anyone with a moral compass stronger than that of your average housecat, so it’s no surprise they didn’t think about it.

However, the fact that the Council immediately turned around and said, “oops, our bad” as soon as the Restaurant Association complained about it speaks to their ethical resemblance to Chairman Meow. That doesn’t make it particularly surprising, as the arm of the other NRA is long. In all likelihood, the Council will “fix” their mistake within the next week, leaving tipped employees taunted by their brief brush with being treated like actual human beings by those in power.

* The other Portland that my father, whose own father is from a place where Farmington, Maine was considered “the big city,” stubbornly insists on referring to as just “Portland,” much the same as adorable Canadians who ask which “London” you’re talking about, or Marylanders from East of DC who ask “which University of Maryland” you’re referring to. Bless all your precious little hearts.

Image via Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.

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