House passes lower minimum wage for tipped employees

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Some waiters and other tipped workers could earn a wage lower than the state minimum, under a bill the House passed 78-55 late Monday.

HF1027, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), would set a minimum wage of $8 an hour for workers whose combined tips and wages come to $12 an hour or more during a one-week pay period.

Lowering the wage would preserve waiter jobs at restaurants offering full table service, Garofalo said. “Right now, businesses that are doing table dining, we are providing a regulatory incentive for them to move to fast-casual.”

[Watch the floor debate]

The proposed lower-tier wage is a dollar less than the new $9 an hour minimum that goes into effect Aug. 1, 2015, as part of a law enacted last year stipulating a series of wage increases. Employees whose tips amount to less than $4 an hour during a work week would make the higher minimum wage. The bill would repeal a part of current statute that prohibits the counting of employee tips toward the minimum wage. 

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) is the sponsor. 

Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) called the bill “wage theft” and said Republican backers of Garofalo’s minimum-wage bill were adopting Walmart’s “rollback” pricing policy.

“Freezing wages for waiters and waitresses will not make our economy stronger,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), calling the bill “a penalty on people who earn tips for their hard work.”

Rep. Abigail Whelan (R-Anoka), citing her own experience as a barista as well as the service-industry work experience of her mother and sister, said the bill would help struggling restaurants and “keep as many people employed as possible.” After misguided minimum-wage increases, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) said HF1027 is “a step back in the right direction.”

The House adopted Garofalo’s delete-all amendment 77-56. Among other changes, the amendment would add a ban on restaurants deducting credit-card company fees from tipped workers’ wages — as proposed in HF402, sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).

Despite that, Davnie urged a “no” vote on a bill he compared to “standing on someone’s paycheck and jumping up and down and trying to make it smaller.”

Sexual-harassment amendment added

From among the dozen amendments that were offered, Garofalo said he could accept two:

  • requiring employers to inform prospective employees about lower minimum wage, by Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead); and
  • rescinding Garofalo’s lower minimum wage at workplaces where the Department of Human Rights determines three or more probable-cause sexual harassment incidents have occurred, by Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul).

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