Nebraska raise for tipped wage earners deemed unservable this session

March 15, 2019 GMT

Amid growing frustration among some senators that controversial bills must have the support of 33 members to get to a vote, a proposal to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers was shelved Thursday.

Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, who introduced the bill (LB400), said she had concerns that Speaker Jim Scheer wasn’t willing to allow a vote even on Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart’s floor amendment to raise the wage from $2.13 an hour to $4.50 an hour, without indexing the wage to the regular minimum wage.

“I have some concerns about my colleagues and all of us being shielded from taking difficult votes on the record,” she said.


Similarly, no record vote was taken on the LGBTQ workplace equality bill, she said.

With this bill, she said, “you’re all going to get off scot-free, not having to be accountable to Nebraskans, to constituents, about where you stand on raising the subminimum wage from $2.13 an hour.”

Hunt said she thinks most Nebraskans believe tipped workers deserve a raise, especially when wage theft is rampant, when many restaurants are out of compliance in ensuring tipped staff are getting at least $9 an hour for their work, and when workers aren’t taking home enough money to pay their taxes and many are dependent on government benefits to get by.

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, who opposed the bill, said he wanted to remind everyone that with the price of food going up, the price of meals in restaurants also is going up and the amount of a tip, when figured as a percentage of the meal, along with it.

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, who is in the restaurant business and was a lead opponent, said he told Hunt he was not willing to compromise on a wage somewhere between $2.13 an hour and $4.50 an hour. He countered with a suggestion, he later said he was not serious about, that maybe tips should be outlawed.

“If tips are the issue,” he said, “if servers and waiters and waitresses aren’t being paid enough, then if we outlawed tips they would be guaranteed the minimum wage, as a base wage. And competition would drive that wherever it might drive that.”

That won’t happen, he said, because if tips were removed at least half of servers and waiters would quit, “because they all understand that tips bring them well above the minimum wage.”