Utah lawmakers kill bill to raise pay for tipped workers

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2015 1:56 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers have rejected a proposal requiring that workers who depend on tips be paid the state's general minimum wage.

The House Business and Labor Standing Committee voted 4-8 on Thursday to kill the proposal. Two Republicans joined Democrats in favor of the proposal.

The bill from Democratic Rep. Justin Miller of Salt Lake City would have raised the pay of tipped workers from $2.13 hourly to $7.25 an hour. It would have been the first wage increase for workers who rely on tips since 1991, Miller said.

Approximately 20,000 Utahns are tipped workers, said Miller, many of them young women. He said the unpredictable pay makes managing a household difficult for them and described them as "living on the edge of society and working a full-time job."

Almost half of those workers rely on some form of government assistance, so requiring that those workers be paid more will cut some of the state's burden, he said.

"This isn't the 1950s anymore," said Miller, who argued that families can no longer live on one income.

Heather Apo of Salt Lake City told lawmakers that while some nights she makes good money waitressing at Red Robin, there are nights where she doesn't earn enough in tips.

"You're dependent on the kindness of others," said Apo, who has worked in the industry for more than 10 years. "Tips are a bonus. And it's not always guaranteed that you get it."

But restaurant and hospitality officials argued Thursday that tipped employees are already making minimum wage.

"There is no one, no one in the restaurant industry who is making less than $7.25 an hour," said Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association.

Under state law, an employer must pay the difference if a waitress does not make at least minimum wage in tips, Sine said.

That law led some lawmakers, such as Logan Republican Rep. Curt Webb, to worry they would essentially be giving a raise to employees already earning the general minimum wage.

Rep. Gage Froerer, a Huntsville Republican, said he voted against the bill because he was concerned "that we're putting undue burdens on the business owner."

Government should not dictate how to run businesses, he said.

Miller said he was disappointed to see the bill die, but he said he was glad to see two Republicans vote for the proposal, calling it "certainly a step in the right direction."

He is hopeful that the proposal might pass if he introduces it next year with an incremental wage increase, rather than a sudden jump to $7.25.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, seven other states require that employers pay tipped workers the full minimum wage: Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Minnesota.

Miller is also running another bill this year to raise Utah's minimum wage from the federal minimum up to $10.25 an hour. That proposal has not yet had a hearing, but lawmakers rejected a similar idea last year.

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Online: HB 236: http://1.usa.gov/19CvoxN