Activists are pushing for the federal minimum wage to apply to all professions, including those that are traditionally exempt, on the basis of racism.
The movement may be gaining some ground. Restaurateur Danny Meyer, who founded the Shake Shack, has eliminated gratuities in several of his New York restaurants. He says the practice of tipping is “one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture.”
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges says “from the moment tipping came to America, it has been treated as a substitute for a decent, fair, and equitable wage.” The custom of tipping was imported from Europe where it was used to reward servers for good service.
However, Hodges, who advocates for a $15 minimum wage in her city, says that in the U.S., “tipping as an institution is rooted in the history of slavery”. She contends that after emancipation, “restaurants and railroads insisted that the now-former slaves who were working in those industries were not worthy of earning a wage, and should subsist on the kindness of customers’ tips alone.”
At least one historian doesn’t agree. According to Gerald Friedman, professor of economics and history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and associate editor of the scholarly journal Labor History, “I don’t think tipping was particularly racial … It was more a matter of customers showing off their wealth.”
With nineteen states across the U.S. implementing new higher minimum wages this year, employees who rely on tips to supplement their income are getting more attention. These employees are found by and large in the service industry. They are paid well below the minimum wage at $2.13 per hour.
However, according to the US Department of Labor, the base wage plus tips must at least equal federal minimum wage. If not, “the employer must make up the difference.”
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