Less than two years after a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers restored Maine’s tip credit – which was removed through the passage of Question 4 in 2016 – a new bill up for consideration in the legislature this session would once again eliminate it.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Brooks, would eliminate the “subminimum wage” for workers with disabilities, as well as agricultural and tipped workers.
Question 4 in 2016 was a ballot initiative to increase Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, indexing future wage increases to inflation. But buried deep within the law was the elimination of Maine’s tip credit, a provision that many restaurant owners and staff vehemently opposed.
As a result of Question 4’s approval by Maine voters, restaurant owners could no longer pay their tipped employees $3.75 an hour, which at the time was half of Maine’s minimum wage. Instead, owners were required to pay employees $5 an hour starting in 2017 and increasing by $1 annually until the tipped wage became equivalent with Maine’s minimum wage, thus eliminating the tip credit. The text of the measure read:
“Starting January 1, 2017, the minimum cash wage paid directly to a tipped service employee may not be less than $5.00 per hour, and the tip credit may not exceed the difference between the minimum cash wage paid directly to a tipped service employee and the minimum hourly wage established under subsection 1. Starting January 1, 2018, and on each January 1st thereafter, the minimum cash wage paid directly to a tipped service employee must be increased by an additional $1.00 per hour until it reaches the same amount as the annually adjusted minimum hourly wage established under subsection 1, except that if the minimum cash wage paid directly to a tipped service employee is less than $1.00 less than the annually adjusted minimum hourly wage, it must be increased by that lesser amount.”
Even before the enactment of Question 4, restaurant owners and workers in Maine formed a grassroots coalition – called the Restaurant Workers of Maine – to push back against the deep-pocketed labor interests that were threatening their livelihoods. Despite the passage of Question 4 on Election Day in 2016, the group remained determined to restore the tip credit.
They got their chance at the start of the 128th Legislature when former Sen. Roger Katz sponsored LD 673, a bill to restore the tipped minimum wage in Maine by eliminating the provisions within Question 4 that would have eventually led to its demise. The group made the most of their opportunity in April 2017 when it organized so much support for reinstating the tip credit that the public hearing for the bill took an estimated 15 hours to complete.
In the end, the measure received wide bipartisan support in both chambers before reaching former Gov. Paul LePage’s desk for his signature.
So why is it that, less than two years after the issue was rectified, a new proposal has emerged to once again eliminate the tip credit?
Perhaps Rep. Brooks and likeminded legislators believe they know what is best for Maine’s restaurant workers. Perhaps she is under the assumption that the Restaurant Workers of Maine are no longer interested in fighting to maintain the tip credit.
This is highly unlikely considering the coalition of Maine service employees have branched out to form a national organization – called the Restaurant Workers of America – which now fights to maintain the tip credit in states and cities across the country.
What’s more probable is that these lawmakers are acting at the behest of the special interest groups that brought Question 4 to our ballot to begin with – the Maine People’s Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the Maine AFL-CIO – and harassed Democratic lawmakers in 2017 for supporting and co-sponsoring LD 673.
It is clear that the 15 hours of public testimony delivered by restaurant workers fearful of losing their jobs was not enough for the liberal interests that do, in fact, think they know what is best for Maine’s restaurant industry.
Despite widespread opposition throughout the state among all levels of restaurant staff, big labor continues its attempt to strip Maine service workers of their ability to earn a living by eliminating the tip credit.
Perhaps 30 hours of testimony in overwhelming support of the tip credit this session will change their minds.