By Haley ED Houseman

Tipped workers who are seeking increases to their minimum wage level are being aided in their efforts via the “One Fare Wage” bill championed by State Senator Patricia Jehlen and State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier.

Tipped workers who are seeking increases to their minimum wage level are being aided in their efforts via the “One Fare Wage” bill championed by State Senator Patricia Jehlen and State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier.

Tipping may be ingrained in our restaurant culture, but few customers understand the cost of their tips. Few know that the system produces wages that are regularly below the poverty line.

“The median income of tipped workers is $13,500 and the median hourly wage including tips is $8.65,” according to State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, in a press release regarding new labor legislation. In a bill filed earlier this year, informally known as “One Fair Wage,” Representative Farley-Bouvier, with Senator Patricia Jehlen, of Somerville, hope to raise the minimum wage for Massachusetts workers who rely on tips.

The bill, titled “An Act Relative to the Tipped Minimum Wage” (.982/H.1702), would gradually increase the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers in Massachusetts until it reaches parity with the minimum wage.

Says Farley-Bouvier, “We have thousands of workers in Massachusetts’ restaurant industry who can’t afford to put food on their own tables for themselves and their families because they are living off tips. This is not acceptable.”

On Tuesday, June 23, Representative Farley-Bouvier, alongside Senator Jehlen and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Boston (ROC Boston) held a briefing at the State House on the contents of the bill that drew almost 100 attendees. Various members of the hospitality community, including restaurant workers, owners, and advocates joined in a discussion of the challenged that face the food service industry, such as poverty, inequality, and sexual harassment.

Josh Lewin, co-owner of Bread & Salt Hospitality and the upcoming Union Square restaurant Juliet, is a vocal supporter of the bill and participated in the discussion along with his partner Katrina Jazayeri. Lewin notes that Juliet’s business model is moving towards a “high road” employment. “We’ve been working to build compensation models for our business that don’t require our staff to count on tipping to make up the majority of their income. It is an important part of our business vision and essential for creating good, strong employment opportunities.”

At Bread & Salt, the focus is traditional: hospitality, guest experience, and culinary performance. But it’s also concerned with creating a space for building careers and a healthy professional environment that yield good service and well-rounded employees. The hospitality industry is often seen as a second or odd job, the chef explains, but it can be a place to learn transferable skills or earn a viable livelihood. Says Lewin, “I got lucky, but I want to take luck out of the equation as much as I can.”

“In passing One Fair Wage, Massachusetts has the opportunity to produce an economic stimulus of over $1 billion per year, by protecting and ensuring a fair wage for all workers,” said Maddie Conway, Research & Policy Organizer, ROC Boston. “It’s a common sense effort that works for all. And since 66% of our tipped workers are women, this would not only be a step towards a living wage for all workers, but a step towards pay equity for all women.” The bill will be heard before the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in the coming months.

Also represented was The Just Crust of Cambridge, who catered the event. The restaurant opened in 2013 and has its roots in a wage theft lawsuit filed by employees against the former owners, Upper Crust Pizzeria. Such employers are referred to as “high road,” prioritizing paying employees a living wage, as well as providing sick time, and benefits to their workers, none of which is standard in the industry. Shannon Liss-Riordan, the workers’ attorney, and her husband purchased the Harvard Square location and reincarnated the restaurant with an eye toward stable employment for all.

Liss-Riordan explains, “Right now, tipped workers can be paid as little as $3 per hour by their employers, and their total pay is dependent on factors largely outside their control. This bill would provide needed protection for some of the lowest paid workers in our economy by guaranteeing them at least full minimum wage.”

Echoing the sentiments of Maddie Conway of the ROC Boston, Sen. Jehlen explained that at its heart, tipping is a family issue. “Many tipped workers are working mothers struggling to support their families. It’s hard for many people – let alone families – to break even when their financial security depends on getting good shifts and making good tips.”

Seven states have already done away with the tipped minimum wage, including California, and evidence suggests the restaurant industry in these places is thriving. Says Liss-Riordan, “Massachusetts can and should be a leader in protecting employees’ rights, but right now it is behind many states by allowing tipped workers to receive such a low wage. Joshua Lewin, for one, is proud to see a representative of Somerville joining the conversation. Says Lewin, “We’re happy to see our city take the lead in this conversation.”

 

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