Just under 50 days out from the election in the United States, and the Democratic nominee for President, Joe Biden, has tweeted that he will end the tipped minimum wage, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities, while ensuring that everyone has strong benefits.
The pledge is sure to boost the Democrats’ popularity with the restaurant industry’s millions of workers, who are facing a very uncertain future. If and when restaurants reboot and people get back to work, it is sure to be at a limited capacity, and with a Covid vaccine still some way off, restaurant workers could be facing more than a year with drastically reduced earnings.
In America, the tipped minimum wage is much lower than the basic minimum wage, with the rest, in theory, made up by the customers' tips. However, tipping is a precarious business and some days are better than others. A worker never has the security of counting on their earnings when so much is left to chance.
Any shortfall in earnings from tips is supposed to be made up by the employer with the so-called 'tip credit', but reports suggest that it is mostly ignored. The fact is the tipped minimum wage contributes to uncertainty and disparity between floor workers and management (salaried staff), and while it is the case that some front-of-house workers earn far more than their kitchen colleagues, the system does not promote equality.
Most hospitality workers would prefer to have a decent minimum wage that they can count on, and the practice of tipping has come under fire in recent years.
Industry leaders like Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in New York have abolished the practice. Chef Danny Meyer recently reversed his no-tipping policy (hospitality included) policy in his restaurant group, saying that he did not want to hinder his employees’ chances of earning extra money in uncertain times, but he says he remains committed to a no-tipping culture for the long-term.
As restaurant workers face an immediate future of working with more risk and less benefit, their cause should be front and central in any Presidential campaign.
The US hospitality industry employs 16.78 million people, making it the second-biggest employer in the country after the state. That’s a lot of votes. Biden recognises the value of courting that vote in what may yet prove to be a tight run election come November.