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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    To tip or not to tip: That is the question

    Marxist Leon Trotsky refused to tip waiters when he was living in the Bronx, saying it supported an inherently unfair and unequal wage system promoted by capitalist restaurant owners. William Howard Taft was lauded as a champion of the anti-tipping campaign when he ran for president in 1908. John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie both were notoriously stingy tippers despite their tremendous personal wealth.

    Tipping has been a contentious topic in the U.S. for almost as long as the U.S. has existed. Long considered unpatriotic in America because of its roots in Europe’s highly class-conscious feudal system, debate over the practice in the U.S. even resulted in numerous states passing anti-tipping laws in the early 1900s. Yet the system that grew in popularity in the U.S. after the Civil War remains entrenched and even seems to be growing in America.

    Some Connecticut lawmakers are now striving to end, or at least greatly reduce, the reliance on tips among service workers. A proposal this year in the state’s General Assembly would gradually increase the minimum wage paid to restaurant workers. The bill was given a thumbs-up by the legislature’s labor and public employees committees and on April 1 was referred to the offices of Legislative Research and Fiscal Analysis.

    We support legislative efforts to bring restaurant workers’ salaries more in line with the minimum wage established for most other workers in the state. That minimum wage now stands at $15.69 an hour in Connecticut, while restaurant waitstaff earn base wages of $6.38 an hour and bartenders earn $8.23 an hour.

    This disparity in base wages can be traced back to days when minimum wages were first established in this country. A federal minimum wage was instituted during the Great Depression, an era when a quarter or more of the American workforce was unemployed. From the start, some types of workers were exempted from the mandate.

    Exemptions included higher-paid workers such as executives and outside sales people, but also large segments of some of the lowest wage earners: domestic servants, agricultural workers and service-sector employees. Those who favored more labor equality in the U.S. argued the exemptions of these specific sectors were rooted in racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and gender inequality because so many of the excluded jobs were held by women, people of color and members of other vulnerable communities.

    According to an article on the history of the federal minimum wage by the Economic Policy Institute: “The exemptions deepened economic disparities and perpetuated a two-tiered system where some workers were entitled to protections and benefits, while others were left unprotected, exacerbating a cycle of poverty and wage inequality.”

    Although a set of amendments to the federal law in 1966 removed some of these exemptions, those for restaurant workers remained. A so-called tip credit was then instituted for these workers, meaning they could continue to be paid sub-minimum wages as long as tips earned raised their overall wages above the minimum wage threshold.

    While representatives of business groups and the Restaurant Association are opposed to Connecticut’s newly proposed legislation, the Labor and Public Employees Committee Joint Favorable report notes: “It is believed that by increasing wages, service workers would experience broadened economic security and stability.”

    Such stability would have a great benefit in an industry where nearly half the employees are members of minority communities. According to data released in March 2022 by the National Restaurant Association, 49% of restaurant and food service employees are minorities, as compared to minorities holding 38% of the overall job in the U.S. labor force.

    Further, the Economic Policy Institute reports that ubiquitous contentions that increasing the minimum wage causes businesses to close simply are not borne out by studies on that subject.

    We believe that having some categories of workers covered by minimum wage laws, while others are not, creates an inherently unfair and classist system. The system sends this clear message to workers: we value some workers, but others not so much. It’s time to send a new message that all workers are valued. This legislation would achieve that goal.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.