Minimum wage tip cap returns to Capitol

Though it didn’t come up much in last fall’s campaign, the minimum wage issue is back at the Capitol in Saint Paul where a Republican lawmaker is carrying a restaurant-industry-written bill to trim the minimum wage increase for servers.

The bill, from Rep. Pat Garofolo, R-Farmington, caps the minimum wage at $8 an hour, the amount it went to last August.

It would apply only if workers earned a total of at least $12 an hour on a two-week average with tips factored in. If they don’t they get the minimum wage.

Restaurant lobbyists say without the bill, iPads could replace servers or restaurants could switch to fast-food joints that minimize the need for wait stuff.

How bad is a higher wage hurting restaurants? The Star Tribune says not much:

Though restaurant operators warn that the higher minimum wage will result in the loss of jobs, evidence from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development undercuts the claim. Since August, when the minimum wage floor rose to $8 an hour, the food and accommodations industry added 3,700 jobs, according to DEED employment data.

Likewise, the Pioneer Press trots out the numbers to suggest things are OK in the business.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reported in the first quarter of 2014 that the median pay in wages and tips for the state’s 48,000 servers was $8.68 per hour. Ninety percent earned less than $11.93 per hour.

According to a 2013 survey by the Minnesota Restaurant Association, wages and tips for servers averaged $22 per hour in the Twin Cities metro area and $18 statewide.

And yet, the Pioneer Press noted, restaurant owners sang the blues at a hearing yesterday when a committee passed the bill on a party-line vote.

But Tim Mahoney, owner of the Loon Cafe and J.D. Hoyt’s in Minneapolis, gave an example of the labor costs involved for business owners.

He brought in pay records for one of his waitresses for the first two weeks of February, one of the slowest times of the year. She made $21.38 per hour in tips, he said, plus the minimum wage.

“We’re not all millionaires. We work damn hard,” Mahoney said of restaurant owners.

“It’s a real big deal,” said Bryan Turtle of Turtle’s Bar and Grill in Shakopee. “Our hands are tied. The only thing we can do is raise prices.”

Keith Olson of Keith’s Kettle in Clearwater said that with the raises for serving staff, there’s not enough money to treat cooks and other staff fairly. The system Garofalo lays out is better, Olson said, because “it doesn’t put as much pressure on the entire restaurant.”

The measure isn’t given much of a chance if it reaches the Senate.