Congresswoman Hopes to Raise Wage for Tipped Workers - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Congresswoman Hopes to Raise Wage for Tipped Workers

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 ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards hopes Maryland's bill to raise the minimum wage will help inspire a similar increase on the federal level, but she the version that the state House passed hurts tipped workers.

That bill keeps tipped workers' base wages at $3.63. It's currently set at 50 percent of the general minimum wage, so it rises with general increases.

"What was done in the House is actually regressive," Edwards said after a news conference Wednesday. "I mean, it's not enough that you don't raise it, but you're going to freeze it, too?"

Edwards, a Fort Washington Democrat, is calling on Maryland's Senate to not fix the tipped minimum at a certain amount. The House approved a bill phasing in a general increase from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2017.

The original bill called for raising tipped workers' base wage to 70 percent of the general minimum wage, but House members amended it.

If they received a pay hike, workers such as bartenders and servers would spend more money in the service industry, offsetting the extra labor costs restaurants would face, she said. She accused the restaurant industry of propagating false messages throughout state legislatures across the country, and throughout Congress as well.

When tipped workers make less than the federal minimum wage, federal law requires their employers to make up the difference. Since 2009, the Department of Labor has found violations in more than 83 percent of full-service restaurant cases, a department spokesman said.

Edwards said workers tell her about their travails almost every time she goes to a restaurant.

"And the story that they're telling me is about wage theft," she said. "This is so wrong, what is happening in this industry."

She has co-sponsored a federal bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and provide gradual increases for tipped workers. A similar measure at the state level could give this bill a push, she said.

In 1991, the federal government decoupled the base wage for tipped workers from the general minimum wage, and since then tipped workers' base rate has remained at $2.13. If it had kept pace with inflation, the rate sent in 1991 would be more than $3.50 now.

The National Restaurant Association reports that restaurants already devote about a third of their revenue to wages and benefits and typically have pre-tax profit margins of only 3 to 5 percent.

According to the group's research, 58 percent of restaurant operators increased menu prices and 41 percent reduced employee hours after the 2007 minimum wage increase. However, this increase also took hold near the onset of the national recession.

The National Restaurant Association reported last year that tipped workers make median wages between $16 and $22 an hour nationwide, after tips. A study from a University of California economist estimated the median at $9.22.

During Wednesday's news conference, Kevin Wheeler, a bartender at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said he likes his job because he gives customers a "taste of home" while they're traveling. But when business slows, sometimes he worries about how he'll afford to eat or feed his daughter, he said.

The Senate's minimum wage bill is still pending in the Finance Committee.

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