Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Tip for Tipped Workers

In the New York Times there's an article about raising the minimum wage for tipped employees (waiters, busboys, bartenders, etc).

Some business owners had said that if they are forced to pay their employees more, they will have to either lay off people or raise prices—but not one owner had said they would have to learn to live on less (profits after expenses).

Having worked in the food and beverage industry for 30 years—from Philadelphia, to New York City to Las Vegas—in both small businesses and large resort hotels (in management, as a server and a bartender), I've come to the conclusion that:

  1. if the owners raise prices, and if fewer people frequent their place of business, they will have to lower their prices again to get people coming back, or
  2. if they layoff servers, the ones still remaining will have to work harder (if they aren't already working at full capacity), covering the extra customers (while also making more in tips); or they won't be able to handle the extra work load (driving customers away), and forcing the employer to hire more people, or
  3. if they raise prices or layoff workers, and then they still can't stay in business, then they have no business being in business in the first place if they can't pay a "living wage" to their employees.
Their failed business will only leave other businesses more customers (who will hire more people), who not only price their food and beverages competitively ("whatever the market will bear"), but they will also be rewarded for treating their employees fairly—with dignity and respect.

In the end, either way, raising workers' wages will only force the owners to live with less --- or it will close their slumlord businesses (those who pay near-slave wages for labor).

Unless you are lucky enough to be working for someone with morals and ethics, you can always count on being cheated in your wages if the business owners can get away with it. The Department of Labor always sends me a newsletter listing all the employers who have been investigated and sued for back wages

I'll give you an example of a "fair employer" (who are very rare these days) --- In the 1980s my then-fiancé and I ran a small video store in Philadelphia (while competing with the video chain Blockbuster at the time); and we paid our employees $9 an hour when the minimum wage at that time was only $3.35 an hour.

On average, it cost us $60 each for every newly released "A" movie (less for "B" movies or used videos). We rented movies overnight for 99 cents. So paying our employees a dollar or two less an hour wouldn't have made all that much of a difference (and because we were willing to work at the store too).

But we still managed to earn a typical middle-class living for 3 years (until my fiancé and I broke up in 1989 and the business was sold).

So no matter how much the owners earn, they will ALWAYS say they can't afford to pay more. So here's my tip for tipped employees: JOIN A UNION! (Because you can't depend on Congress to do the right thing).

In Las Vegas, at the biggest and nicest hotel/casinos, tipped employees are paid much better—because most are union—or if they aren't, they have to compete with union wages.

But many of the hotels have gotten around paying better wages by using 3rd party owners for in-house restaurants and nightclubs. So my tip for them is the same: JOIN A UNION! They would be a fool not to. If they don't, then they only have themselves to blame for low wages with no benefits.

Because those cheap and greedy bastards will never "give" you anything—you have to "demand" it. So join a union—and not just for better wages, but for job security, healthcare, paid holidays, vacation time and respect. Those ruthless business owners won't "give" you respect either, but you can earn it by being a part of something much bigger than yourself --- a union --- your own army.

George Lakoff: "One of the reasons for low salaries is that workers can't bargain for fair wages as individuals. The absence, or weakening, of unions leads to Wage Slavery... Labor unions offer freedom from wage slavery, especially in states where conservatives are trying to legislate wage slavery via so-called "Right to work laws", which are really exploitation laws."

So JOIN A UNION! That my friend, will be the very best tip that you will ever get, no matter what industry you work in.


  1. Business groups and powerful lobbyists, heavily backed by the restaurant industry, are mounting an aggressive campaign against tipped workers...


  2. I forgot to mention...........

    Corporations spend millions on lobbyists to keep your wages low. When you join a union, you pay unions dues; but besides being tax deductible, those union dues also gets you your OWN lobbyist in Washington defending your rights.