“I’m a bartender, a mother and now a grassroots organizer,” noted Maggie Raczynski. “Why? Because Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to upend my industry. I love being a bartender, for a multitude of reasons. The most important is the flexibility of my schedule. While my husband works a normal 9 to 5, I can be at home with my children.”
The Albany area based waitress was among the impassioned outpouring from the restaurant industry at the final New York State labor hearing focused on an increase of the minimum wage and most importantly the tip credit elimination.
Raczynski’s story is one that may very well find its way to the big screen. She has spent the last 18 months at her own expense leading the battle against the tip credit elimination that has created the very foundation that the state’s restaurant industry is based upon. When Gov. Cuomo indicated his desire to change the tipping system, she launched a Facebook group—Supporters of the Tip Credit in NY that has grown to some 23K plus followers.
“When I speak to thousands of tipped workers across our state, the two major reasons we choose to be tipped workers is the flexibility of hours and the great money we make,” Raczynski continued. Many of us are college educated; yet we chose our profession because the money is good. Gov. Cuomo has said that he wants to change all this and upend my profession. He has proposed ending the tip credit. “For those of you that are new to this term, the tip credit allows us to count our tips towards our wage.”
Supporters of the Tip Credit in NY and groups including the NYC Hospitality Alliance feel that the governor may have good intentions but his intel is lacking. In fact the last time New York gave tipped workers a 50 percent raise according to Census Bureau data 273 full-service restaurants closed.
These include, the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center), an anti-tipping activist group. “I think we saw the true colors of the ROC and Saru Jayaraman at the hearing,” Raczynski added. “How could she refer to Applebee’s and Fridays as “Breastaurants.” On top of that she couldn’t get out of there fast enough rather than responding to questions.” According to filing data, ROC spent $80,000 last year to lobby Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature. ROC claims that tipping exacerbates sexual harassment. With ROC’s encouragement, 16 female celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jane Fonda and Natalie Portman sent a “letter” to the governor that was published in The New York Times. “Women deserve to earn a fair base wage so that the tips they still collect don’t come at a personal cost,” the actresses wrote.
Responding to the actresses’ letter, and in an attempt to save the tip credit, hundreds of mostly female restaurant workers signed their own letter. “We’re servers and bartenders by choice, just like you chose to be actresses. The industry gives us flexibility, and the current tipping system gives us an opportunity to earn great money with less than full-time hours,” the letter read. “I feel like the celebrities didn’t do it with mal-intention,” she said. “But because they don’t really know how it works and what’s really going on, they were uninformed of the actual consequences of eliminating the tip credit.
The tip credit, Raczynski said, ensures that tipped workers can continue working for tips throughout their shifts. Earning minimum wage, however, would allow employers to assign them to other tasks, including ones where they wouldn’t earn gratuity. Raczynski also argued that increasing wages would cause restaurateurs to increase prices or cut staff to save money.
Higher prices, she said, could then dissuade customers from dining out as often or spur them to pay less in tips. “How am I supposed to survive on $10.40 an hour?” she said. “If the end goal of this is to collect more tax money from people — how much are you going to collect from unemployed people who lose their businesses?”
The Andrew Rigie led NYC Hospitality Alliance, has come out against the proposal, predicting it would result in fewer hours for tipped workers. In an op-ed in the NY Daily News, the group argued that, “if an employer does not pay the minimum wage now, they won’t magically comply with the law if you make them pay more.” The One Fair Wage Coalition counters that the current low minimum wages for restaurant workers already contribute to widespread wage theft, as employers routinely ignore a legal requirement that they “top off the pay of a person who works for tips if it doesn’t add up to at least the minimum wage.”
A group of 18 women restaurant owners in Harlem, including Melba Wilson of Melba’s Restaurant and Crizette Wood and Tren’ness Woods-Black of Sylvia’s, say a tip credit elimination would put even more of a financial strain on small independent restaurants.
“Sylvia’s Restaurant has been a beacon of light in Harlem for nearly 60 years. As an anchor of our beloved village, we love giving our neighbors and guests from around the world the finest soul food experience with every visit. Losing the tip credit will chip away at the institution that is Sylvia’s Restaurant, and choke our community employment record as the largest minority employer for over four decades,” testified Woods-Black at the hearing.
TFS’s attempts to speak with State of New York Labor commissioner Roberta Reardon were met with a “we have nothing to say until the reviews of the testimony is concluded.” In the interim, Raczynski’s advice is to call and email local State reps in Albany who could ultimately help to overturn a Cuomo mandate.