A seemingly off-hand comment by Tom Emmer about servers who make $100,000 a year has become sort of the all-you-can-eat buffet of Minnesota’s gubernatorial race.
Both Emmer, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, and DFLers keep going back to the table for a few more bites.
Emmer, who last week seemed to suggest that servers who receive tips shouldn’t be paid a full minimum wage base, has helped keep the issue alive with a made-for-TV event. He went “undercover” as a waiter for a couple of hours, a way of showing his empathy for the servers of the world.
Additionally, he has scheduled a meeting with servers for Wednesday at the Ol’ Mexico Restaurante in Roseville, at which time he’ll explain his positions on tips and minimum wages and the restaurant business in general.
Along the way, Emmer also has come out with a number of statements, starting with the fact that the media got his original comment about $100,000 waiters wrong. Since then, he’s said he wouldn’t ever propose lowering the minimum wage of waiters, but as the minimum increases for other workers, he would favor holding servers to the current rate.
Today he came out with another plan for servers and the restaurants that employ them. He proposed to eliminate the state income tax on the first $20,000 in tips collected by workers.
“Tips should be between the customer and the server,” Emmer said in a statement, “and state government has no business reaching in and taking a portion of that income.”
Servers wouldn’t be the only people in the restaurant business who would benefit under Emmer’s newest plan. Restaurants would be allowed the same sales tax deductions for capital equipment other business receive. The new plan also would eliminate “the tax penalty” restaurants currently pay when they give their employees free meals. Currently, Emmer said, businesses are required to pay a tax on free meals provided to employees.
He called that “an outrageous tax grab.”
DFL gubernatorial candidates, of course, have been feasting on Emmer’s initial remarks about highly paid servers, continually pointing out that the average full-time server in Minnesota is paid less than $20,000 a year, including tips.
Today, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL’s endorsed candidate, staged a news conference with servers who support her campaign.
“Last week, he said they make too much,” scoffed Kelliher. “What he offered is no different than stealing their tip money off the table.”
Asked about the newest proposal to come from the Emmer camp, Kelliher laughed.
“When I heard that proposal, I thought, ‘Hmm, he must be getting a lot of tips from Republican consultants.’ He keeps going around and around on this issue. I’d say you could call it spin.”
Both sides are trying to make this issue emblematic of something greater than the tips you and I leave servers.
DFLers, of course, are saying that it shows that Emmer is out of touch with everyday working people in Minnesota.
And though he has repeatedly said, “I have not proposed reducing the minimum wage,” DFLers have pointed out how in 2005 Emmer, as a state representative, proposed eliminating the minimum wage entirely.
For his part, Emmer is countering by saying he’s sensitive to both bosses and workers.
“Both businesses and wage earners are hurting in this economy, and it’s time somebody finds solutions that help everybody.”
But Kelliher suggests that the various positions Emmer has tossed out in the last few days indicate that Emmer must have offended members of his own party with the $100,000 crack.
“When he said it, he hit a nerve with a lot of people,” Kelliher said. “People are mad as hell at this issue. … And we’re saying he has many positions, like this, that are out of step with mainstream Minnesota.”
Among those watching this all unfold has been Wade Luneburg, political director of UNITE HERE!, which represents servers.
He was at Kelliher’s news event today and plans to be at Emmer’s meeting with servers Wednesday.
This issue, he said, has taken on a life of its own because it’s something everyone can understand.
“Everybody knows a waiter, or was a waiter at one time,” Luneburg said. “When he took on this issue, most people understand he was taking on the lowest wage workers in the state. Is that the way he’s going to fix Minnesota’s economy?”
Then, Luneburg smiled. Given the number of positions Emmer has seemed to come up with in the last couple of days regarding servers, he thinks maybe we’ll see a complete turn-around by week’s end.
“By the time he’s done moving around, maybe he’ll be supporting doubling the minimum wage,” Luneburg said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.