Advocates call for higher minimum wage for tipped workers

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July 14, 2014

Advocates for a higher minimum wage are urging for better wages for workers who rely on tips. Governor Cuomo has promised to create a committee to consider raising the minimum rate for the workers, and the groups say they have evidence that an increase is needed.

Currently, tipped workers in New York are not covered under a new law that allows the state’s minimum wage to increase to $9 an hour by 2016.  The minimum wage for workers like waiters and pizza deliverers who receive tips is still set at $5 an hour.

Mike Kink, with the Strong Economy for All Coalition, says Governor Cuomo is expected to follow through on a promise to convene a special wage board as early as this month. The board would consider whether tipped workers should receive better basic pay.

Kink says the wage board has the power to hold hearings and take testimony. He urges them to “set one fair wage for everybody."

“To allow tips to be gratuity for good service, as opposed to a part of basic survival,” said Kink.

Gregorio Castro works in a bar in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He says many nights are good, but the tips are unpredictable, and once summer sets in and vacations begin, business is poor.

“It’s not enough for us to live,” Castro said. “We are depending on tips, which are really variable. We don’t know how much we are going to end up making.”

Rahul Saksena, is an organizer who works with restaurant workers, and he says many struggle to make ends meet. There are approximately 200,000 tipped workers in New York. 70 percent are women. Saksena says female workers who rely on tips are especially vulnerable.

“Often exposing them to sexual harassment and things like that, just to get a better tip,” Saksena said.

Cuomo has the power, through the wage board, to make a decision on whether to raise the wages for tipped workers without having to seek approval from the state legislature.  

The wage board is due to make recommendations on the tipped workers by February 2015. Cuomo has not yet appointed anyone to the board, but a spokesman says he expects that to happen “soon."