A brief disclaimer: This is not a political blog. I am not looking to get into politics with it. I will only enter the political realm when it is specifically relevant to servers. This is one of those cases.
Tom Emmer is a State Representative in Minnesota and the presumable Republican Nominee for Governor. In an effort to showcase his pro-business credentials, he recently highlighted a need for restaurant owners to pay their servers less than minimum wage. This alone probably would not have merited a post on this blog. He followed it up by stating that he had talked to a restaurant owner who complained because of this wage he had some employees making over $100,000 a year. He said this was more than the owner earned. Therefore, the owners should make a tip credit for the tips their employees earn. He said that as he traveled around the state that people on “Main Street” knew what he was talking about.
I grew up on Main Street in Gladstone, MO. I have also been both a waiter and a manager in states with and without tips credits. I can assure you I have no idea what he is talking about. So I decided to do a little research. All of the data I will cite comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2009 report on waiters and waitresses. A few quick searches revealed that the annual median wage for a server in Minnesota is $19,220. The 90th percentile earns $36,240 per year. So either Emmer went to the most lucrative bar and grill in the state of MN to speak to the owner or he is lying. We don’t have to guess the answer because the owner has made it clear that he said no such thing.
Emmers further backtracked by posting on his website “a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters shows that tip credits have essentially no negative impact on wages for tipped employees.” We went through a similar fight in Missouri a couple years back. I am very familiar with this study. Beyond the statistical mumbo jumbo (I think that is the PhD term) you can note some things about this study right away. It was written in 2005 and based on data from 1999. So if by “recent” Emmer meant “last millennium” he is correct. Another interesting phrase they use is “no ceteris paribus.” I guess Emmer wasn’t expecting a server blogger to have taken Latin in college. “Ceteris paribus” loosely translates to “all things being equal.” They make it clear in the study that they don’t accept fixed variables as a basis for comparison. They also state shortly after,
“The reason is that the national market for servers is very competitive and we contend that it will equalize pay between states. Servers in states with lower tipped minimum wages may migrate to states with higher wages, or businesses in states with higher tipped minimum wages may relocate to states with lower wages.”
Which explains why all of the restaurants in Minnesota moved out of state and all of the servers in the US have moved to Minnesota. More likely it shows how flawed the study was. If Emmer’s solution to unemployment is to export the employees to other states, this is the exact study he should cite.
I took a different approach to get some real numbers. Using the BLS database I compared the states the study shows provide no baseline for server wages (AL, AZ, FL, GA LA, MS, SC, TN) and the states do not allow for tip credits at all (AK, CA, MN, MT, NV, OR, WA). The results were clear. Of the states with no minimum wage for servers only one had wages that were above the national average for servers. Of states paying servers the full minimum wage, only one had wages below the national average. Emmer can cite convoluted studies with false assumptions all he wants, but this study doesn’t even hold up to on a prima facie (latin for “face value”) analysis.
We know that Tom Emmer is wrong. We know that Tom Emmer has no concept of the work a server puts in and how little they receive in return. The question now is: how do we respond? When the legislature started discussing lowering the server wage in my state, I found out from a guest. This legislation was flown under the radar to avoid angering servers. This time we caught them and I believe it is time to spread the word.
Here is what we can do:
1) Spread the word: I made a video highlighting his comments that can be found at the end of this post. We need to get this to Minnesota. We are all only a couple degrees of separation from MN servers. Facebook, blogs, etc need to pass this information along until it gets to them.
2) Stand up: Politicians and lobbyists will continue to attempt these maneuvers until we make it clear that we will fight them. This time we caught Emmer on camera saying something ridiculous. Let’s make an example to him as a warning to any politician who considers this move to reap campaign contributions from restaurant owners.
3) Start the dialogue: One out of every sixty-six employed Americans is a tipped waiter or waitress. According to the BLS, we are the eighth largest employment classification. We have interests that should be respected by politicians as much as any other group. We have more votes than the owners who endorse these proposals. It is up to us to talk about it and make our opinions known.
The Tom Emmers of the world can only say these things if we remain silent. We have the numbers on our side. We must make our voices heard to fight this in Minnesota so when the next state considers it the Minnesotans will fight with us. Politicians have taken advantage of us for too long. It is time we stand united to prevent them from taking advantage of us anymore.
Here is my video to help spread the word:
I updated with some additional information here.
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