Restaurant employees resist Trump admin. plan to let bosses keep tips
On Feb. 6, a waitress brings out an order during the first lunch service since Harvey-related flooding closed down Roper's Country Store and Cafe, in Simonton, Texas. Under a rule proposed by the Trump Labor Department, her employer may be able to keep any tips that customers leave her. | Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle via AP

WASHINGTON—Under pressure from workers—who filed 350,000 petitions against his scheme—and lawmakers, Trump administration Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has agreed to meet with lawmakers of both parties on the issue of letting bosses keep their workers’ tips.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which represents tens of thousands of low-wage restaurant workers in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other major cities, quotes Acosta as saying he would work with lawmakers on the proposed Tipped Income Protection (Tip) Act.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Katherine Clark, D-Mass., introduced the Tip Act following a testy exchange with Acosta over tips at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing in early March. The Tip Act would let bosses pocket tips only if they pay the workers at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and not the federal tipped minimum, $2.13 hourly.

The Tip Act would overturn a Trump Labor Department proposed rule, which Acosta defended at the hearing, letting bosses keep workers’ tips, with no restrictions. That scheme, a pet cause of the anti-worker National Restaurant Association, reversed an Obama-era ban on such wage theft. It also caused an uproar.

ROC gathered petitions from 350,000 workers and symbolically delivered them to DOL on the deadline day. It also sponsored demonstrations against the bosses’ wage theft in cities nationwide. Under current law, which hasn’t changed the tipped wage since 1992, bosses are supposed to make up the difference between a worker’s tips and the federal minimum wage. They often don’t.

An Economic Policy Institute analysis, using federal data, revealed the Trump DOL’s tips rule would cost workers—most of them women toiling in restaurants—at least $5.8 billion yearly.

ROC co-founder and President Saru Jayaraman said the DeLauro-Clark bill would partially protect tipped workers.

“Tipped restaurant workers suffer from disproportionately high rates of poverty and face the worst sexual harassment of any industry in the U.S, largely due to the subminimum wage that forces a mostly female workforce to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families in tips,” she said.

“The Trump administration’s proposed rule would allow employers to take their workers’ tips, pushing workers who rely on tips for their income further into poverty, instability, and abusive working conditions, and exacerbating the already highest rates of sexual harassment in the industry. With the Tip Act, workers would be partially protected from this tip theft.”

Tipped workers would gain further protection, Jayaraman said, if Congress raises the federal minimum wage to $15 hourly, as House Democrats propose in HR15. That would be the first raise in the regular minimum wage in almost a decade, and the new raise would occur over several years. HR15 also would eliminate the subminimum wage now paid to teenagers.  Congress’ ruling Republicans have defeated Democratic minimum wage hikes on party-line votes the last several years.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.