Politics
11:23 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Louisville Minimum Wage Forum Highlights Tipped Worker's Struggles

A supporter of the minimum wage hike at Louisville City Hall
Credit Phillip M. Bailey

As lawmakers the nation over debate raising the minimum wage, one Louisville server says local elected leaders need to pay closer attention to the struggle of tipped employees especially.

Supporters of raising the pay rate to $10.10 testified before the Metro Council’s Community Affairs Committee Monday evening.

Less than a dozen people showed up and all voiced their support of the idea.

But those in attendance said they were disappointed even fewer council members—save Democrats Attica Scott, David James and Chairwoman Barbara Shanklin—attended the special hearing.

"A lot of the council people are just not in touch with Louisville folks," says Christine Jones, a restaurant server who earns just $2.15 per hour as a tipped employee. "They’re not in touch with us working-class people who work our butts off. Who work two or three jobs to makes ends meet. They just don’t care."

Opponents have cited potential job losses, but those in attendance told council members that Metro Government is the best hope to help struggling workers.

Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt tells WFPL that Scott could unveil a local proposal as soon as sometime in the next month.

The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour but that doesn't apply to most bar and restaurant tipped workers, who are only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage.

If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference. But many of those who testified that their bosses often force them give up their tips to a pool of workers or file for higher earnings on their taxes to avoid a federal audit.

Jaison Gardner is co-host of WFPL's Strange Fruit podcast and a restaurant server who testified at the Monday hearing. He told the council tipped workers are often the "forgotten people when it comes to labor rights."

"Most of our cities restaurant workers rely almost exclusively on tips for our paycheck," he said. "That has not seen an increase since 1991, so it's been over 23 years since tipped employees like servers and bartenders have had an increase to our minimum wage. So please, I invite you to think about how much you made two decades ago in the profession you were in."

Under a Democratic proposal at the federal level, tipped workers would see their base pay raised to $7.07 per hour. But that faces stiff opposition from the National Restaurant Association and other groups.

During the 2014 Kentucky legislative session, state lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled passed a pair of minimum wage bills for tipped and non-tipped workers. Both measures have stalled in the Republican-led Senate, however.

Workers like Jones says the only hope for a pay hike in the current political climate is if council members act at the local level for people who serve this community daily.

"The majority of restaurants in Louisville where servers work are not your high end restaurants like Jack Fry’s," says Jones, who declined to say where she works. "They’re places like Cracker Barrel or places like where I work where you have poorer people and working-class people that go. And they don’t always tip really well. I have gone home and had tables that didn't tip me a penny. And I went home crying because at the end of the night I went home with $5 an hour."

Related Program