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Pedro Park outcome does not inspire optimism for tip-credit supporters in St. Paul

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Matt Gray
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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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by William Lindeke on 10/31/2018 - 09:56 am.

    “The majority of the direct stakeholders were asking for something from the city that they might not receive.”

    There are a lot of things at stake surrounding the Pedro Park proposal, including how to spend city money, where parks investments should take place, whether to tear down an historic building, what kinds of parks are needed and how to pay for them. You don’t have to live on 10th Street to care about that issue. and it has nothing to do with tip credits.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/31/2018 - 10:20 am.

    Yeah, I’m not sure how a totally different issue which you don’t seem to understand very well is relevent to the minimum wage debate.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/31/2018 - 01:15 pm.

    I have heard this theme in the debate over organized trash collection in Saint Paul as well. Here’s the deal, just because it’s a democracy, and you get involved and speak up, you may not get your way. And that doesn’t mean that no one is listening. It doesn’t mean you weren’t heard. It just means that on this issue, you did not prevail.

    If 50 servers in a city of over 300K convince the city council to adopt a tip penalty, do I then get to say that “a vocal minority badgered the city council into it”? The entire city belongs to all of us, no matter what neighborhood we live in.

    No one promised that getting involved means getting your way.

    • Submitted by Jamie Robinson on 10/31/2018 - 02:52 pm.

      First, the legal mechanism for a tipped wage is called a Tip Credit. There is no such legal term as “tip penalty”. Second, nearly ALL full service restaurant professionals want a tip credit. The only opposition to a tip credit are counter service cashiers who wouldn’t be affected by the Citizens League suggested tip credit. Third, the point of this article is that the St. Paul City Council did not listen to their constituents about Pedro Park and are unlikely to listen to tipped workers, the largest group who will be negatively impacted by $15/hr without a tip credit.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/31/2018 - 05:42 pm.

        I don’t appreciate the condescension on the term tip penalty.

        First, there is no “legal mechanism” for a tip penalty in Minnesota or Saint Paul. It doesn’t exist in law. If there is no legal term “tip penalty”, there is also no legal term “tip credit.”

        And while conservatives have done a much better job than liberals on controlling the language, that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to adopt terminology from Frank Luntz or Koch funded groups like ALEC of the astro-turf Americans For Prosperity For the Wealthy.

        If one looks at the dictionary definition of “credit”, by and large they are positives. So of course those who like to lower wages would call it a tip credit; credit has a positive glow about it. Getting credit from a bank is good, as is credit in school.

        Many of us don’t see lowing of wages as positive. “You get tips? OK, we’ll penalize you by lowering your wage.” It’s ridiculous to suggest that only tipped serves should decide this. That’s just not the way democracy works.

        If a business owner is not able to figure out how much his or her employees are worth and has to leave that to the customers, that doesn’t speak well of his or her business acumen. Home builders don’t do that. Tax preparers don’t do that. Nor does Midas or Car-X.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/31/2018 - 06:29 pm.

        Weird, because I googled “tip penalty minimum wage” and got dozens of responses relevant to the issue. Some like this one which explains what “tip penalty” a far better name for it than “tip credit.”

        https://www.thestranger.com/seattle/its-not-a-tip-credit-its-a-tip-penalty/Content?oid=19234278

        In any event, its pretty evident that Mr. Phelan is much more knowledgeable about the topic if you think “tip penalty” is not a real term.

        But his main point, which you seemed to have missed completely, is that the fact the counsel doesn’t vote in accordance with people who show up at hearings doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. I often submit written comments. Maybe the counsel members campaigned and got elected on an issue and don’t let the testimony of a few people change their minds. Maybe what they want isn’t workable or financial feasible. The author of this piece is making huge assumptions.

        • Submitted by Jamie Robinson on 11/01/2018 - 06:56 pm.

          No matter how much you insist, or “google” there is no such legal term as “tip penalty”. The legal term is tip credit. That is a fact. Also, nearly all full service restaurant servers and bartenders want a tip credit structured in a way that only affects them. You’ll be challenged to find even one who doesn’t. These are the people who serve you food. Respect them.

  4. Submitted by R. Hanson on 10/31/2018 - 03:40 pm.

    I’m not sure the issues are related. However the Pedro Park decision was indeed disappointing. I understand the financial logic, but I’m not sure why a majority of the St. Paul city council believed that Ackerberg will honor the 20 year funding commitment. The only reason businesses make deals like that is because they are easy to negotiate out of.

    Furthermore, more office space is probably the only thing downtown St. Paul does not need. It’s at 20% vacancy and the last 2 big office projects are mostly empty. The city council did vote against the neighbors’ wishes as well as the Pedro family who donated the park space. All this for another developer driven dud of a space. Not a great look.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 11/01/2018 - 08:56 am.

      I disagreed with fmr mayor Coleman’s insistence that this building be used for office space. It would have been the perfect residential conversion. St. Paul has seen that you thrive once you welcome residents. A functional office market will follow in time. That said, I’m glad the building is sticking around even as an office.

      • Submitted by R. Hanson on 11/01/2018 - 10:51 am.

        Frankly I think there is enough housing in downtown St. Paul for the time being. A centrally located park would be a great amenity for existing residents. I also believe a large, nice park with contemporary amenities would attract more interest for future residents and businesses than another ersatz urban loft rehab. Something like a smaller scale Maggie Daley would be a game changer for downtown St. Paul, IMO.

  5. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 11/01/2018 - 08:54 am.

    I’m not understanding the relationship between the two issues here. Personally, I agreed with Bill Lindeke and others that tearing down a functional building would harm rather than benefit St. Paul, especially when Pedro Park needs activation of the space it already has. If there’s anything that harms the Pedro block, it’s the 1/2 of it that’s surface parking today. Not to mention the human-hostile streetscapes created by the Robert Street or Pointe Condo parking garages.

    It could have been the Rossmor Building across the street that was championed for demolition and conversion into a park at one point in history, and we would not have the vitality of a full block facade of restaurants and bars to activate the streetscape opposite what is now Pedro Park.

    But most baffling is trying to connect this to the tip penalty issue. The only relationship between these two issues is that the author disagrees with the outcome/likely outcome. That’s part of the public process. Don’t speak for the rest of the public and ascribe your views on Pedro Park or the tip penalty to the rest of us.

    Local politics isn’t us vs them, “shady pols” vs “the will of the public which is certainly in alignment with me.” It’s a process with lots of stakeholders and ideas, and well-meaning people doing their best to achieve an optimal outcome.

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