Living Wage and Repeal of Tipped Wage
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wage to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Working class citizens of this state and country have waited too long for a pay raise. People living on the current minimum wage are living in poverty, collecting food stamps and other tax payer provided assistance programs. The status quo has become a big giveaway to business owners, as they reap the profits of low wages while the rest of us pay to support their employees’ basic needs. No one who works full-time should have to be on food stamps. No one who works full-time should have to worry about keeping the lights on or heating the house. We need to pass a living wage. And while conservatives will say this will hurt jobs and growth, studies have shown this to be untrue. Raising wages will actually improve the economy, as people at the low end of wages will be spending their raises on buying more goods and services. We can protect small businesses from a sudden financial shock by implementing the raise to $15 an hour in steps over three years. And large businesses in the state, such as Walmart and Target, can be required to pay their employees the living wage immediately. This type of implementation has already been affirmed by the Supreme Court. We need to stop letting businesses profit by paying poverty-level wages and support hardworking members of our community by passing a living wage.
And while we are at it, let’s repeal the arcane tipped minimum wage. Last year the state passed a $1 an hour increase that will take effect in 2017, making the tipped minimum wage a whopping $3.89/hr. That is not enough! Continuing to have this sub-minimum wage creates a second class of worker, a class that is taken advantage of and exploited every day across our state. While it is true that the law states that a worker must make at least the minimum wage and the employer must cover the difference, this is rarely enforced or reported for fear of losing one’s job. In addition, many hours worked are illegally listed as tipped working hours when what they are really doing is side work, i.e. getting the restaurant set up. There are better ways to do this here in RI. We can get rid of tipping altogether and wait staff will just make at least the minimum wage, or more, depending on the establishment. Or, we can do what countries across Europe have done – have a service fee with taxes included in the menu price, thereby making sure that employees are paid a fair wage. Either of these options will make sure that unsympathetic customers cannot cheat wait staff, and will prevent dishonest managers from taking advantage of lax enforcement. Arguments that this will raise prices are unfounded. Yes, the price on the menu will change, but those of us who have been tipping 20% are already paying these prices. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the total cost of your check will be before you receive it? And yes, some people will pay more, such as those who have never tipped and owners who take advantage of their workers. If you ask me, those are not the type of people that I want to advocate for or support.
By bolstering the working class, we will improve our economy and enrich the lives of thousands of people and their families across our state.