Bill raising minimum wage for tipped workers becomes law

STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in Rhode Island by $1 over the next two years has been signed into law.

Under the new law, the minimum hourly base rate for tipped workers would rise from $2.89 to $3.39 on Jan. 1, 2016, and to $3.89 on Jan. 1, 2017.

While the sponsors say they would ultimately like tipped workers to be protected by the same hourly minimum wage law as other workers, they believe the new law is progress.

“This will mean a little more money in the pockets of people who, by and large, don’t bring home large paychecks. In fact, tipped workers are twice as likely as non-tipped workers to rely on food assistance programs. These raises acknowledge that tipped workers’ base rate shouldn’t be the same as it was two decades ago. It will make it a little easier for thousands of Rhode Island families to get by and will mean more money circulating in our local economy,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence).

Said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), “When the tipped minimum wage was set at $2.89 in 1996, the regular minimum wage was $4.45. We’ve raised the regular wage several times since then, and another bill we’ve passed this year will raise it to $9.60 because all workers need to be able to support themselves. While we’d like to see further progress toward affording Rhode Island’s tipped workers the same protection as other workers, this compromise is moving their wage in the right direction.”

As originally proposed, the legislation (2015-H 5364A, 2015-S 0291A) would have incrementally raised the tipped minimum wage over the next five years to match the regular minimum wage by 2020.

The sponsors argued that raising the rate would help stabilize paychecks in volatile professions, and that tips are supposed to be a way to reward good service, not the way to pay most of workers’ salaries. Only in tipped professions are customers expected to pay employees’ salaries directly, and nobody’s salary should be so dependent on customers’ mood or generosity, they said.

They also pointed out that Rhode Island’s tipped minimum wage is the lowest in New England. Connecticut’s tipped minimum wage is $5.78 for servers and $7.46 for bartenders, and New York State’s tipped minimum wage is $7.50.

Co-sponsors of the House bill include Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence), Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence).
The Senate bill includes among the more than 20 co-sponsors Senators Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence).

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457