BOSTON – Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) joined over a dozen of her colleagues last week to testify in support of H.2365/S.1004 before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
The legislation, sponsored by Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Dan Donohue (D-Worcester), would raise the Massachusetts minimum wage, currently $11 an hour, by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2021. It would also increase the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, currently $3.75 an hour, over 8 years until it is equal to the minimum wage.
The adjustment to the sub-minimum wage, often referred to as the “tipped minimum wage,” would bring Massachusetts in line with seven other states that have eliminated the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. All seven of those states, which include the entire west coast, have seen a growth in their restaurant industry since making the change.
Massachusetts currently has the largest gap in the nation between its minimum wage and its sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. Despite the notion that Massachusetts tipped workers make above average wages at expensive Boston steakhouses, the vast majority are employed by casual dining restaurants. They are significantly more likely to live in poverty than workers overall, and given that women and minorities make up the large majority of this field, this disparity furthers the wage gap.
In her support for this legislation, Senator Jehlen has continuously highlighted concerns over the negative impacts the sub-minimum wage has on tipped workers and their families.
“In this industry, where many workers are women and mothers, having employees rely on a sub-minimum wage supplemented by tips leaves them more vulnerable to poverty, wage theft, sexual harassment, and more,” said Senator Jehlen. “Where there are women and mothers in poverty, there are also children and families in poverty. Tips should not replace a decent base wage; we need to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.”
Dozens of low-wage workers attended the hearing and several testified about how a $15 minimum wage would improve their lives.
“As a server working at a diner in western Massachusetts, I primarily worked the overnight shifts so that I could attend college classes. I made less than $3/hour, and quickly learned that I needed to live with sexual harassment – from customers, cooks, and managers – if I wanted a good tip, my true source of income,” said Marie Billiel, who now manages a restaurant in Cambridge. “After I refused sexual advances from managers, they scheduled me in sections that had few customers. Without a living wage, I was completely reliant on customers’ generosity and had to accept how they treated me. My rent, health, and education depended on it.”
Also at the committee hearing was Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Somerville’s Juliet, who testified in support of the legislation. Juliet is one of Restaurant Opportunity Center’s (ROC) “high road” employers, whose business model includes sharing profits with employees, offering benefits, and, notably, eliminating tipping altogether.
“As the only tip free restaurant in the Boston area, we take the economic stability and advancement of our staff very seriously. As business owners we’ve taken on the responsibility of ensuring our staff earns higher than the minimum wage–because we are well aware that the minimum wage is not a living wage in this area,” Jazayeri stated, reaffirming her and co-owner Josh Lewin’s full support of raising minimum wages and eliminating alternative minimums.
“A low minimum wage, and the two tiered wage system for tipped workers, exposes workers to abuses that our industry has for too long accepted as business as usual,” she continued. “We are standing up as leaders in the hospitality industry to show that it is not only possible to have an award-winning and prosperous business while compensating our staff fairly and with dignity, but that fair wage practices is critical to our long term success.”
The minimum wage legislation has been co-sponsored by 22 State Senators and 70 State Representatives. The bill now waits to be reported out of committee.