As a server who has worked at the same St. Paul restaurant for nearly 15 years, I am a direct stakeholder of the implications of St. Paul’s impending minimum-wage increase. For the past year, I have advocated to the city for the inclusion of a tip credit in the ordinance.
On Oct. 24, around 50 of my fellow tip-credit supporters and I gathered in the City Council chambers to hear the second reading of the law. We all hoped that a brave council member would purpose an amendment supporting tipped restaurant workers.
The reading ended and the full house of minimum-wage advocates vacated. I decided to stick around for a while. The next topic was the controversial proposal for the Pedro Park property. What I observed, and what transpired, did not inspire hope that the city would support our desire for a tip credit.
The once-full chamber of wage advocates was replaced with park advocates holding yellow signs that read, “Expand the park” and “keep the promise.” I listened to roughly an hour of testimony from direct stakeholders who pleaded with the city to honor the original agreement with the Pedro family. The hearing was anchored by a Pedro family member who gave a heartfelt speech. The message was “keep your promise.”I was moved by the speakers. I realized their fight was similar to our fight. The majority of the direct stakeholders were asking for something from the city that they might not receive.
In the end, the council voted 5-2 against the wishes of the Pedro Park neighbors. A cascade of boos rained down on the council as the park advocates departed.
The council member who represents the ward where the property is located was one of the two who voted to support the wishes of the neighbors. Prior to the vote, they asked their colleagues to support the majority of stakeholders. Something the council member said while trying to appeal to fellow council members really resonated with me:
If we pass this motion we will be doing something I’ve never seen us do … which is to move forward with a plan for a neighborhood, that is opposed by a majority of the neighbors.
Were the council members asking the same thing that we, the tipped workers, are asking? For the council to support the wishes of the majority?
As a non-stakeholder in the Pedro Park issue, I came away with the perception that the city is willing to overlook the voices of the majority.
Will the city once again give hypocritical respect to the ones most directly impacted by their rulings? Listen but not hear, and ultimately overlook the majority of restaurant workers who support a tip credit? We will find out in the coming weeks.
Matt Gray is a career server at a St. Paul restaurant and served on the St. Paul Minimum Wage Study Committee.
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