Local Politics

(Opinion) Question D: It’s Complicated

This November, the Portland ballot will have fourteen referendums. One of the referendums is Question D, which would raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour for restaurant workers, but would get rid of the tip credit. The tip credit was eliminated statewide in 2016 following a similar referendum. The tip credit is what servers earn to make up for their lower wages. When a customer leaves a tip on their card it goes directly to the server. 

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In 2016 Question 4 raised the minimum wage statewide to $12 dollars an hour but eliminated the tip credit for restaurant workers statewide. At the time, servers in Maine earned a measly $3.75 an hour, half of the minimum wage. However, the tip credit more than made up for the rest of the lacking cost. The positive aspect of Question 4 passing was that when the tip credit came back, the base wage was higher for servers, but still half. The servers’ wage was supposed to go up by $1 annually until it reached the base minimum wage. This is the same theory for Question D in 2022.

As MaineWire reported in April of 2017, a coalition of restaurant workers in Maine lobbied for 15 hours in a public hearing to reinstate the tip credit. Question D is backed by the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America); they support most of the referendums on the ballot for a more “livable Portland.” While the raising of the minimum wage to $18 an hour is great and all, eliminating the tip credit is disastrous for restaurants in Portland and our economy.

Clearly, nobody in the DSA has ever spent time working in the restaurant industry, because if they had, they would know how important the tip credit is. It is obvious that America has become quite unlivable with soaring inflation and a housing crisis; eliminating the tip credit would only make matters worse.  

As someone who has experience working in the restaurant industry for nearly four years, a wage increase would substantially affect my life in a positive way; however, getting rid of the tip credit is a step backwards. As the system stands, I make more money from tips than I would if I made $18 an hour. While serving, my wage is hovering around $30 an hour because of the tips I receive. Now that rate can fluctuate because of how busy it is, but the rate on slow days is still higher than $18.

For example, as a server, if I have 3 tables in the span of an hour, the first table is a party of 2, the second table is 4, and the third table is a party of 6. The couple’s bill is $50 dollars, the table of fours bill is $75, and the group of 6 has a bill of $120. Assuming each party tips around 20 percent, I will have made roughly $50 dollars from the tip credit alone. That doesn’t include hourly pay; even if it’s a fraction of minimum wage, the tip credit more than outweighs the wage. 

Most people who support the referendum haven’t worked in the restaurant industry, and they don’t understand the benefit of the tip credit. Leaving with cash in hand is one of the reasons people even work in restaurants. Unanimous servers across Portland don’t support Question D because of the tip credit issue. Servers can’t afford to lose the tip credit because the hourly pay simply won’t be enough. If question D passes, many of Portland’s favorite restaurants will be forced to close.

Servers will flee to work at restaurants in other towns where they’ll still have the tip credit. In turn, this will stress the shortage of workers restaurants are already experiencing. Tipping isn’t just important for the servers but also for the rest of the support staff for the front of the house. I work multiple positions at the restaurant. The extra few dollars added to my hourly wage would be fantastic. However, with the tip credit, servers tip the support staff for their hard work at the end of the night. I already earn over $18 an hour due to tips at other positions. Without the tip credit, other support staff positions wouldn’t be able to survive. 

It’s unfortunate that I have to go against a referendum that would benefit a lot of workers here in Portland, but it would be devastating for the restaurant industry. Portland is well known because of the high number of great restaurants that drive the tourism that the state relies so heavily on for revenue. Much of the workforce here in Portland is made up of restaurant workers. In Maine over 60,000 people worked in food service in 2019. Inflation has already caused the cost of food to skyrocket; businesses would raise their prices even more to be able to afford to pay everyone. One theory is that people will still tip cash out of the “kindness of their heart,” but that’s not the case. Having worked in the industry for years, my gut feeling is that if people don’t have to tip, they won’t. 

Raising the wage is important, but if you’ve looked around the state you’ll see where the market is. Wages are already rising. Following the pandemic, people don’t want to work unless they’re paid well, and for good reason. Portland raised the minimum wage to over $19 an hour for a brief period when the pandemic was raging. Mcdonald’s is hiring in Portland for $19 an hour, a company notorious for underpaying. Although some places are being forced to raise wages due to a lack of workers, other establishments are stuck in their ways and underpaying employees. It is also important to note that some businesses have a vested interest to support going against Question D, because they want to underpay workers. The downside is attaching the tip credit for a bill that would benefit workers throughout the city.

This referendum is complicated and not as cut and dry as it sounds. Every day, you might receive mail from one of the opposing sides of the referendum spewing propaganda. This makes it difficult to form an educated opinion on the issue. Looking back at the aftermath of 2016’s results and the outcry from restaurant workers, and being part of the industry myself, I’m voting no on D. It’s a shame that the removal of the tip credit has to be added to a referendum that’s long overdue for workers. I urge readers to educate themselves and form their own opinion on how they want to vote for question D and all of their other ballot questions.

Categories: Local Politics, OpEd, State Politics

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