By Paloma Mexika, New Mexico Center On Law And Poverty Communications Associate
(This op-ed appeared in the Albuquerque Journal)
Every worker should be paid a livable wage, but the Albuquerque Journal would have you believe that servers will lose our entire livelihood if the minimum wage is raised. They paint a picture of restaurants without servers, and of diners ordering at counters, picking up their own food and drinks and busing their own tables.
Until very recently, I depended on tips for years. In addition to my base wage, my tips put me just above the poverty line and barely afforded me the cost of living in Albuquerque.
The minimum wage has not been changed in New Mexico for a decade, but a bill to increase it statewide is making its way through the Legislature.
House Bill 31 would raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 by mid-2021 and tie further increases to inflation. It also adjusts the “tip credit” that allows employers to pay tipped employees $2.13 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the minimum wage. HB 31 would make the tip credit 30 percent of the prevailing minimum wage.
The Journal claims that increasing the minimum wage and adjusting the tip credit will force restaurants to shut down or drastically reduce service. Really? Do opponents of the increase really advocate for a business model predicated on paying servers only $2.13 an hour out of business revenue? How do restaurants adjust when other fixed prices go up like gas, electricity, food or alcohol?
As seen in other states that have increased or removed the tip credit, the restaurant industry did not change and is healthy and expanding. When low-wage workers like myself are able to earn a livable income and have even a little bit of spending money and free time, we go out to eat and shop at mom-and-pop locally owned businesses.
The higher wages go right back into our local economy, and as a generous tipper myself, I hope employers are paying a livable wage so that my tip is just extra for a job well done.
The Journal claims that going out to eat would suddenly become so drastically unattractive that the service industry as we know it would cease to exist if tipped employees are paid a livable wage. When
Albuquerque increased tipped employees’ sub-minimum wage, it didn’t devastate the restaurant industry. Our tips didn’t change, and our paychecks were actually decent.
Raising the minimum wage is better for companies in the long run even if it means a slight adjustment at first. When employees earn a livable income, they don’t have to work multiple jobs, plus they have more time and energy to put into their work.
Even if there were a tradeoff in working a few less hours, I would be willing to adjust to it because at least I would know I and my counterparts throughout the state wouldn’t have to rely entirely on inconsistent tips.
No one should be expected to work for next to nothing. But oftentimes servers don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t employers share more of the responsibility to ensure everyone is paid at least the minimum?