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Horner agrees with Emmer on waiter pay, not on tone

Note: After this ran, Tom Horner said I got his position wrong. You can read a follow-up post here.

I admit, the "tip credit" isn't the most important issue of the 2010 governor's race, but it's a fascinating and surprisingly powerful kerfuffle in a populist year. So much so that in the wake of his "$100,000" server comments Sunday, GOP proponent Tom Emmer took another whack at the issue Monday, insisting he isn't talking about a wage cut, merely a wage freeze. (I'll let the fact-checkers vet his floor-speech history; video of Emmer's Sunday statements here.) Meanwhile, DFLers all restated their position as opposing sub-minimum paychecks for tipped workers.

But what about Independence Party candidate Tom Horner?

Straddling Republicans and Democrats, Horner often gets the chance to break the tie, but I couldn't find any accounts of his position. Turns out Horner is with Emmer on principle, though not on tone.

In response to my Twitter badgering, I received this statement via deputy communications manager Matt Lewis:

Rep. Emmer’s insensitivity to the many hospitality workers who are struggling to earn a decent living is how ideological politics are dividing Minnesotans. Tip credit is part of the solution needed to sustain jobs in the hospitality industry, but it shouldn’t be a rationale to pay less-than-minimum-wages.

Reading this, I scratched my head.

The tip credit is defined as paying less-than-minimum wage, at least the minimum paycheck non-tipped employees get — that's the point. If Horner accepts the tip credit as a "solution," he accepts this, too. However, no one — not even Emmer, I think — suggests workers end up with less-than-minimum pay after tips. In fact, federal law requires owners to make up the difference if gratuities fall short.

In this particular case, Hornerism sounded like Emmerism with a pretty wrapper. I think my former colleagues in the food service industry would care less about Horner's sensitivity than the paycheck effects. So I called the candidate to clarify.

Yes, Horner said, he would consider cutting pay, though he didn't specify an amount between the federal $2.13-an-hour minimum and Minnesota's current $5.25/$6.15 floor (depending on business size).

"You have to strike a balance between [owners] operating at razor-thin margins and workers operating at the bottom of the pay scale," he said. "There's potentially a middle ground."

Horner did decry Emmer's use of the tip credit as a "wedge issue" and said it wasn't a priority for him. Still, he acknowledged the PR/crisis management firm he co-founded, Himle-Horner, has done work for the restaurant industry, though he personally hasn't.

While tip credit supporters are under some duress — see Jon Tevlin's column destroying the "$100,000" claim — Republicans still back sub-minimum paychecks as a menu-price-lowerer, job creator/preserver and pay raise (for non-tipped workers) ... all with "no negative impact on wages for tipped employees."

Horner isn't willing to tout these floor-wax/dessert-topping virtues, but on this one, he's with the GOP, not the DFL.

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Comments (5)

This is one issue the GOP would be wise to stay away from. It is a non-starter, solves no problem and only hits those on the bottom of the totem pole.

Horner is a Republican, albeit a disaffected one. Its not surprising that he wants to let restaurant owners dip into the tips their customers leave.

Is it really newsworthy when two Republicans agree on blaming low-income waitstaff workers for our problems? There isn't a whit of difference between Horner and Emmer on this issue. No need to try to create one.

I am sure all the servers out there will appreciate Mr. Horner's tone and sensitivity to the issue when they are getting their wages cut.

==see Jon Tevlin's column destroying the "$100,000" claim==

Tevlin did the sort of reporting I'd prefer to see in the same news cycle.

When Emmer said of servers at the restaurant Monday, “With the tips that they get to take home, they are some people earning over $100,000 a year,” the response from reporters should have been, "Name them."