The readers’ forum

Tipped restaurant workers are fairly compensated


I had to respond to the well-scripted Jan. 19 letter of state Sen. Dwight Bullard and Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunity Council, Many tipped workers live in poverty. I say well-scripted, because the ROC releases articles like this frequently, but never shares its entire agenda because many components are contradictory. I believe the leadership of the ROC is ethical, intelligent, well educated and motivated to help others. However, its knowledge is limited and its thinking is naïve.

I am a retired restaurant human-resources executive who has served as vice president or above for Darden Restaurants, Carlson Restaurants Worldwide and Ignite Restaurants. This has given me a bird’s-eye view of what really happens in the industry.

ROC is contradictory when it says that tipped workers live in poverty, but they also sue restaurant companies for allegedly refusing to promote nontipped employees into tipped positions. How on Earth can they reconcile these two positions toward the same company? They cannot.

Bullard and Jayaraman propose raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and paying all employees at least that wage. They further say that this will lift thousands of Floridians from poverty. The current Florida minimum wage is $7.93 for most employees, but only $4.91 for tipped employees, as long as their tips bring total compensation to $7.93. Hence, all employees by law must earn at least $7.93 an hour total compensation.

I suggest the ROC propose to all tipped employees that they give up their tips to the restaurant and work for the proposed $10.10 per hour. It will learn that the vast majority of tipped employees earn significantly more than the $10.10 they propose. Naively, it appears to assume that tipped employees declare all their tips to the IRS, which does not happen. Both restaurant companies and the IRS are keenly aware that employees fail to report a large portion of their tips and work hard to solve this problem. The ROC would benefit from the insights gained by those who have worked on this issue since long before the organization was created.

I agree with the last statement in the letter: “No worker should earn less than the minimum wage.” They never said that any worker earns less than the minimum wage, because they know that is false. If any employee is in fact earning less than the minimum wage — salary and tips combined — that is a violation of federal and state law, and should be reported to the U.S. Department of Labor, which will move quickly to ensure the employee does earn minimum wage, including back wages.

Kevin Cottingim, Miami Beach

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