Rep. Regunberg, Sen. Goldin and 'One Fair Wage' coalition urge passage of Tipped Minimum Wage bill

STATE HOUSE – A diverse array of organizations and individuals joined together at a news conference today at the State House to urge passage of legislation to increase the state’s tipped minimum wage.

The event marked the formal rollout of “One Fair Wage Rhode Island,” a coalition consisting of community, labor, faith and women’s organizations working to support House bill 2015-H 5364 and Senate bill 2015-S 0291. The legislation, which was scheduled for a hearing today before the House Committee on Labor, would incrementally raise the state’s tipped minimum wage from its current rate of $2.89 per hour between the years 2016 and 2020, starting with an increase to $4.50 per hour on January 1, 2016. Beginning in 2020, the tip wage would be comparable to Rhode Island’s regular minimum wage at that time.

“Rhode Island has the lowest tipped minimum wage in all of New England,” said Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “It hasn’t been raised since 1996, when the regular minimum wage was $4.45 an hour. After nearly twenty years, it’s time for a change.”

“Leaving a tip is no longer a way to thank someone for great service,” said Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “It’s paying your server’s base salary, and nobody’s base salary should depend entirely on a customer’s mood. I am proud that in my last term I voted twice to raise our state’s regular minimum wage. But each of those votes has left a critical sector of our workforce behind, and continued our state’s two-tiered wage system. That’s what this legislation is about.”

A number of coalition partners – including the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and RI-NOW – explained that the legislation was an important piece of the women’s equality agenda. Women’s Fund Executive Director Jenn Steinfeld said, “At the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, our work is designed to eliminate gender inequity through systemic change. Raising the tipped subminimum wage is an issue of women’s economic security. Nearly three in four Rhode Island tipped workers are women, one-third are mothers, and more than half of these are single mothers. Women in the workforce already face a gender wage gap, and are overrepresented in low-wage work. Eliminating the subminimum wage would help address this gender pay gap, and go a long way towards leveling the playing field for women who need it most.”

Labor representatives agreed. Maureen Martin, Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and head of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, argued that the legislation was about the dignity of work. “Right now the people who serve our food sometimes can’t afford to put food on their own plates,” she said. “According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for tipped workers in Rhode Island is $8.90, including gratuities. The AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and so many other labor groups support raising the subminimum wage because we believe in equality and we believe that second class status must end in Rhode Island.”

Coalition partners also made the economic case for passing the legislation. Mike Araujo from the Restaurant Opportunities Center said, “Raising the subminimum wage will have an important stimulative effect for Rhode Island. When tipped workers earn more, that money goes right back into the local economy and helps Rhode Island businesses. An analysis by the Restaurant Opportunities Center found that this legislation would add over $64 million to the state’s economy. By increasing workers’ income, it will also increase state income tax revenue and reduce the number of tipped workers who are forced to rely on government assistance. Because when business owners won’t pay their workers, the rest of us do – in fact, tipped workers in Rhode Island receive $638,325 in food stamps every month, and their higher poverty rates make them twice as likely to use food stamps as non-tipped workers. This legislation is a win for workers, a win for the economy, and a win for the state.”

Numerous workers with experience in the restaurant industry spoke out as well. Longtime server Joseph Fortune explained how the legislation would affect him. “I understand what it means to live entirely off of tips because I have been working in the restaurant industry at the $2.89 minimum wage for 10 years now, most recently at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. This life is difficult and unstable. While a server can sometimes luck out and have a great Friday or Saturday night, this is not the norm. Even at higher-end places like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, servers have to work multiple slow shifts for every good shift. During my years waiting tables, it would not be uncommon to spend hours on my feet on a slow day and leave with barely enough earnings to cover my gas to and from work. Raising the subminimum wage would provide some much-needed security and stability for all of us struggling to make ends meet in this industry.”

The full list of “One Fair Wage Rhode Island” coalition partners include the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, RI-NOW, NAACP-Providence Branch, Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the Economic Progress Institute, the Bell Street Chapel, Rhode Island AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Fuerza Laboral, NEARI, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Unite Here Local 217, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Rhode Island.

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, currently before the Senate Committee on Labor, 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:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457