Lawmakers Press for Equal Pay for Tipped Workers

February 5, 2019

By Chris Lisinski

State House News Service

BOSTON -- Less than a year after lawmakers struck a so-called “grand bargain” to increase minimum wages for all workers, advocates are mounting a new push to ensure tipped workers receive the same base wage as all other hourly employees.

In all but seven states, the minimum wage for service employees who can earn gratuities -- many of whom work in the restaurant industry -- is lower than the standard rate. Massachusetts has one of the largest gaps in the country, with a minimum wage of $12 per hour and a minimum tipped wage of $4.35 per hour.

The divide will persist as increases under the new law take effect and the standard minimum wage rises to $15 an hour by 2023 and the minimum tipped wage climbs to $6.75.

Legislation re-filed last week by Sen. Patricia Jehlen and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier would effectively eliminate the separate rate for service workers and include everyone under the larger standard minimum wage.

“There isn’t any other small business that gets to pay their workers less than minimum wage,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It’s a perversion of what paying people is that we got to this point. The culture isn’t going to change by itself. It’s going to change with good policy, and this is good, solid policy.”

Their proposal comes amid a push across the country for what supporters call “One Fair Wage,” with similar legislation proposed in 15 other states and a bill in the federal House of Representatives. Jehlen and Farley-Bouvier discussed the topic on a Tuesday conference call with lawmakers in other states who have authored similar bills and with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who co-sponsored federal legislation to raise the national minimum wage for all employees to $15 an hour.

Kennedy said the proposal, which is unlikely to garner enough support in the Senate but has new momentum in the Democrat-controlled House, would increase quality-of-life for workers in the restaurant industry.

“There are millions and millions of Americans where this economy just isn’t working for them,” Kennedy said on the call, which was hosted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.