BANGOR – Last week, Mainers gave a raise to minimum wage earners. Now some restaurant servers and owners say the wording needs to changed even before it becomes law.
The new minimum wage will be $9 per hour when it becomes law in 2017, gradually rising to $12 an hour for non-tipped employees. As as it was approved by the voters, it will be 2024 before tipped workers reach that wage.
Across the country, labor laws allow restaurants a tip credit. The referendum removed that tip credit from Maine law.
Some restaurant owners and servers want the tip credit placed back in the Maine law.
According to legislative staff member, there is precedent for amending a citizen initiated referendum, but only after it becomes law. Once it becomes law, the legislature can fine tune it as they could amend any law.
“Restaurants pay servers half of minimum wage and then we make up for that in tips. I make more than minimum wage. If I end up getting paid nine, ten, eleven or twelve dollars an hour, it’s going to be cutting my wages in half,” said Michelle Verge, a server at Bangor’s Geaghan’s Restaurant.
It’s not just servers, such as bartenders, waiters, waitresses and hostesses who want the tip credit back, but restaurant owners as well.
“Another piece of that bill, you know, is tied to the consumer price’s rate increases after 2020. (There will be) yearly increases. I think it’s impossible for a business in the state of Maine, really, to keep up with that and adjust for it,” said Chris Jones, owner of Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant in Bangor.
There’s no question, there’s already a lot of confusion among patrons.
Verge said, “my customers are voicing concerns. They’re not sure what to do. They don’t know if they should continue tipping.”
But food servers and bartenders may already be feeling the impact.
“A lot of them already are going to stop tipping or greatly reducing what they have been tipping,” said Jones during an interview Thursday morning.
Some restaurant owners fear unless restaurant workers are treated as they have been all along, consumers will see price increases, businesses will lose revenue and workers will see job cuts.
According to Jones, “I think it’s going to be crippling. I really do. I don’t think it’s going to give Maine a lift up, as they put it. I really think there’s going to be layoffs within the restaurant industry. There’s going to be a lot of people, you know, not making as much money as they are currently.”
Another restaurant owner in Bangor said, it’s rare for restaurant workers and restaurant owners to agree. On this issue they do. Unless the referendum question is fine-tuned before it becomes effective, it will be a disaster for the restaurant industry.