Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota joined Bryan at the press conference, both noting that the rule was another example of President Trump standing with the powerful against the interests of the people. One of those powerful groups? The National Restaurant Association, also known as “the other NRA.” Alongside the Department of Labor, the industry lobby is framing the proposed rule as an initiative to allow for tip pooling to end pay disparities between the front and back of the house.
What ROC United and other advocacy groups point out, though, is that there’s no provision to ensure that tips stay in the hands of workers and not their bosses. In fact, the language in the proposal suggests that employers could allocate tips to make capital improvements or lower menu prices, which they say has “potential benefits to employees and the economy overall.” Or a tip left for a server could go to the employer instead.
That transfer of money from workers up to their bosses is no small change. If the rule is enacted, the Economic Policy Institute says that employers would take $5.8 billion in tips from workers, an estimate they call conservative. The backdrop to this is an industry that’s already rife with wage theft, which makes worker advocates especially concerned.
For example, employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers can pay tipped workers $2.13 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the full minimum wage. But enforcement is lax — and that’s something Bryan knows from experience. She says she’s gone two weeks without getting paid a minimum wage, and hasn’t been able to get her employer to make up the difference.
Wage theft is also already an issue with tips, as ROC United co-director Saru Jayaraman pointed out at the press briefing. ROC United has surveyed nearly 10,000 restaurant workers, Jayaraman said, and one in five of them reported that employers have taken a portion of their tips, even though that’s currently not legal.