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Seattle implemented a $15 minimum wage two years ago. Here’s what Minneapolis could learn from that fight

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Whether a Minneapolis minimum wage ordinance should allow credits for tips earned divided dueling rallies April 17 in front of the Stadium Village Buffalo Wild Wings. Restaurant workers in the background confronted activists who oppose what they term a "tip penalty."

It’s tempting to look back at the first successful fight for a $15 minimum wage and figure it was inevitable: Seattle, 2014. Wealthy city. Booming city. Left-of-center politics. A large base of progressive activists.

But David Rolf, the president of SEIU 775 and one of the leaders of the drive to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15, said it was anything but a sure thing. “To start with, we were the first,” Rolf said last week. “We were in completely uncharted territory.”

Even after a minimum wage and paid leave ballot measure was successful in the city of SeaTac, which surrounds the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the thought that Seattle might do the same “was an idea that at the time seemed absolutely crazy,” Rolf said.

But it happened. And as dozens of cities and counties have followed, Seattle has been held up by both supporters and opponents of city-only minimum wage ordinances as evidence for both how it was accomplished — and how it is being implemented.

MinnPost talked to three key figures in Seattle’s 2014 $15 minimum wage fight, not only to explore the similarities and differences with the current situation in Minneapolis, but to see what advice they might have for the players looking to craft a new ordinance here. 

The labor leader

Rolf founded SEIU 775 in 2002 and has grown the membership to 44,000 members in Washington and Montana. He also serves as an international vice president for the union, which has been a leader in state and local campaigns on minimum wages, paid leave and fair scheduling. 

Rolf chronicled the Washington state and national campaigns in his book “The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America.” The effort began in what some might consider an unlikely place, the recently incorporated city of SeaTac, which had grown up around Seattle’s international airport. Like most airports, the businesses around it employ lots of low-income workers, including many recent immigrants.

But the 2013 ballot proposal there wasn’t just a minimum wage ordinance. Instead, the proposed law packaged an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a paid leave benefit, a requirement that employers offer more hours to current part-time workers before hiring additional employees, and a strict ban on wage theft. Rolf called it “the mother of all living wage ordinances.”

Despite a well-funded opposition led by the largest carrier at SeaTac, Alaska Airlines, the measure passed that November by just 77 votes. “SeaTac prototyped the whole thing,” Rolf said.

By the time the effort moved up I-5 to Seattle, backers of the $15 wage campaign had two options: to launch another initiative campaign — or focus on the mayor and city council. Mayor Ed Murray and all nine council members had supported the issue during the 2013 election. And the Seattle Chamber of Commerce had taken a pragmatic position: Members figured that something was going to pass, so they should spend their time trying to work out the details rather than waste their efforts trying to kill it outright. 

David Rolf
David Rolf

“It’s hard to say, ‘Go to hell’ when the mayor and all nine council people and a majority of the business community are all saying, ‘We want to sit down and negotiate with you,’” Rolf said “We never gave up the threat of a ballot measure, but we wanted to try negotiating first.”  

Still, there was a limit to what labor and progressive activists would compromise on. They wouldn’t settle for less than a $15 an hour minimum wage. And while a phase-in of the wage increase was likely, “We weren’t going to settle for a phase-in period that put McDonald’s at $15 in 2025 or something like that,” said Rolf. 

A committee appointed by Mayor Murray, the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (with Rolf and old-money Seattle scion Howard Wright as co-chairs), ultimately crafted a plan with carve-outs for tip credits and for employers who provided health insurance.

Wait, did we say tip credit? Called a “tip penalty” by activists in Minneapolis, the issue has become the hot-button aspect of the debate over $15 minimum wage in Minnesota, with Mayor Betsy Hodges and a majority of the council pledging not to support such a credit in whatever is passed. In his book, Rolf called tips the most difficult negotiating point when it came to dealing with small, locally owned restaurants. “They were the cause of the majority of the drama in Seattle,” Rolf said. “They wanted a full-scope, traditional tip credit which no one was interested in giving them.” As with Minnesota, Washington state did not have a tip credit in its state minimum wage at the time. 

In Seattle, as in Minneapolis, local restaurants made the case that labor was a high percentage of their costs and that a large percentage of low-wage workers needed time to adjust to a different wage system. “I’m not sure I believe it, but that was the politics of it,” Rolf said. 

At the same time, what Rolf called “the traditional bad guys” — fast food chains, chain retail and national restaurant groups — got no special consideration.

The final plan, which went into effect on April 1, 2015, was based on a compromise proposal offered by a Chamber of Commerce official. Large employers (those with more than 500 employees) had three years to get to $15; large employers that offer health insurance had a four-year phase-in window. Smaller businesses had up to six years to get to $15, with different phase-in schedules based on whether they offered benefits and employed tipped workers. Finally, by 2025, every employer in the city will have to pay at least $18 an hour. 

“So the minimum wage rises at different levels depending on other features of the enterprise,” Rolf said. “Is it large, is it small? Do they have health care? And for smaller restaurants only do workers get to take home tips. We didn’t do it as a tip credit. We did it as four different classes of enterprise.” 

“A very simple idea — $15 an hour — got expressed in a very complex policy,” he said.  

Would the plan look different if it were crafted now? Yes, said Rolf.

“If we were going this summer after 20 million Americans were already covered by a minimum wage law, we’d have been, ‘Let’s do a three- or four-year phase-in, a dollar a year till we get there, and leave it at that.” And Rolf said he did not think the ordinance has caused hardship for restaurant servers.

“I haven’t seen data to suggest this,” he wrote via e-mail. “If server income went down, I’d generally expect labor shortage and further wage increases. We have 2.9 percent unemployment here, so if servers were dissatisfied, they have a lot of places to go.”

What advice would Rolf offer activists and union leaders in Minneapolis?

“It often takes as much effort to do something small as something big,” he said. “I’m convinced that in either SeaTac or Seattle we would have faced the same level of opposition had we tried to raise it by 75 cents, to $10.18. For that reason, we shouldn’t spend our lives doing small things.”

The restaurateur

Dave Meinert owns some of Seattle’s most popular restaurants and nightclubs, including the 5 Point Cafe and Big Mario’s Pizza. He is also a music promoter and manager of bands, including for artists such as Fences and the Lumineers. He organized a popular block party and cofounded a political movement that repealed a teen dance ordinance that restricted access to live music to underage patrons. That led to the creation of a political committee, JAMPAC, to support candidates who supported music and nightlife.

He was one of the people asked by Murray to serve on the work group. In the end, however, he called the process a “charade.” He said he thinks the process was designed primarily to benefit the SEIU and, in turn, the local politicians who benefit by the union’s campaign support. “Labor wants to pass laws that encourage union membership, mostly focused on big businesses,” Meinert said. “If SEIU or UFCW could get McDonald’s to unionize, they’d get hundreds of thousands of new members.”

Very few restaurants are unionized, and very few workers affected by the minimum wage debate are union members, Meinert said. But when servers and bartenders tried to get involved in the issue, he says, they were attacked by Working Washington, a group founded by the SEIU, and the alternative newspaper, “The Stranger.” It caused the servers organization to disintegrate.

Meinert is in favor of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance. But he also thinks that once the tip credit ends, the law will hurt restaurant workers more than restaurant owners. Many larger restaurant groups not eligible for the tip-credit phase-out have already rolled the increased costs into prices or have shifted to a service charge model, in which a 20 percent surcharge is added to each tab.

While tips are kept by the server, service charges go to a restaurant owner, he points out, who then can use the revenue to cover the higher wages both in the front of the house (servers, hostesses, bartenders) and the back of the house (cooks and dishwashers).

While some restaurants with service charges still provide a space for tips — money that goes directly to the server or bartender — others have removed a tip line from their credit card slips. (Upwards of 80 percent of restaurant and bar tabs are paid with cards, not cash.) “Ultimately, many businesses in Seattle didn’t fight for the tip credit because they wanted that excuse to raise prices and get rid of tips so they could control the money,” Meinert said. “You have this ironic thing happening where labor is fighting to give owners control of the money.”

Meinert says his restaurants still use a traditional tipping model but will switch to a service charge when the tip credit phases out in 2020. When that happens, hourly wages may go up but total income will not, he said.

Dave Meinert
Stacy Booth/Where Seattle
Dave Meinert

And he strenuously disagreed with activists who say that workers in cities that don’t have tip credits do not experience reductions in tips for tipped workers. “For activists to say, ‘Don’t worry, workers. It’s all going to be the same,’” he said, “It’s just patently untrue, and we know that with real-world examples in Seattle.”

Meinert said he laments that the debate became so polarized — and that it continues to reverberate three years after passage of the Seattle ordinance. Just last week, after Tweeting that he was opening the third location for his pizza restaurants, a former writer for The Stranger replied: “Damn you, $15 an hour minimum wage! (Amirite, @davidmeinert?)”

It is a common reaction to any news about economic well-being by a business that opposed or wanted changes to the ordinance, implying that all of the predictions of doom were overstated. But Meinert said such critiques miss the point. Seattle, he notes, does not have $15 minimum wage for most workers right now. “If you like the minimum wage structure in Seattle, then you’re agreeing that the phasing it in over time and giving a tip credit and health insurance credit is the right thing to do to make it work,” he said. “And I agree. It’s working because we phased it in over a long time and we have a tip credit.”

His advice for restaurant owners in Minneapolis? “Don’t worry about it because at the end of the day it’ll benefit you. It’s the workers who should be worried.”

The council member

Sally Clark was in her second term on the Seattle City Council when the committee she chaired took up the minimum wage ordinance. Before winning election, Clark had been director of community resources for the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and she resigned her council seat in 2015 to become regional and community relations director for the University of Washington.

As a candidate, Clark recalls being asked about the minimum wage, especially when meeting with labor groups. “I said yes, in concept, people need to be paid more,” said Clark, who described herself as a run-of-the-mill Democrat and a progressive. “But I said it was not ideal for Seattle to do it alone. I’d rather see it done at a wider level” for fear that it would create competitive disadvantages for Seattle employers.

But then came the financial collapse, the foreclosure crisis and the Occupy movement, which, she said, “lit a fire under people on the larger issue of economic equality. “People said, ‘We’re tired of waiting for a larger regional approach,’ ” Clark said. “ ‘It has to start someplace, and we want it to start with you guys.’ ”

While it was certain the Seattle council would pass something in 2014, there were conversations about the number. “Should it be $15? Should it be $12? Should it be $13.25?” Clark said. The SeaTac vote, however, set the wage. And when the task force reached its agreement, “that’s when the gun went off.”

Sally Clark
Sally Clark

The council still faced protests as it worked on the issue, mostly from the Socialist Alternative, a party that had just elected the city’s first socialist since 1916, and the affiliated $15 Now campaign. Clark said they complained that the council should adopt a $15 wage and apply it immediately and across the board. “If you don’t do that, obviously you are beholden to those corporations who are knocking on your door,” she said, paraphrasing the protesters’ message. “But I don’t recall getting visited by a lot of big companies. People at Amazon weren’t quaking in their boots over the minimum wage.”

The mayor and the council were more interested in what she termed a “flight path to $15” that worked for all of the parties on the working group. “It was about getting everyone to yes,” she said. “It was maybe not on the perfect flight path, but it was a flight path everyone would respect and live under.”

Her recollection of the politics of the tip credit mostly matches that of Rolf and Meinert. Servers and bartenders weren’t really a factor, especially those from lower-priced restaurants. It was restaurant owners — more than other businesses — who were the voices asking for consideration. She characterized the argument like this: “Let me figure out how to pay for this over time by still allowing tips to be counted until I can see how it shakes out, so I can have better equity between the front of the house and the back of the house.”

“The tip credit is so hard,” Clark said. “It is complicated to work through.”

Her advice for Minneapolis? “Set a deadline for when you want to be done and be done. At some point, you’ve got to call the question,” she said. She also suggests investing in an evaluation. That is, make sure someone is independently measuring the impacts and reporting back to the policy makers with the news, both good and bad.

And finally, Clark said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Impact on restaurants

It should be noted here that both SEIU’s Rolf and former Council Member Clark agreed with Meinert that the payment model in Seattle restaurants is changing. Rolf said there are four models in use: restaurants that haven’t made any changes yet; those that increased prices and eliminated tips; those with service charges and no tipping; and those with service charges but that also provide space for tipping.

Larger restaurant groups, not just national chains but chef-owners with a handful of restaurants in the region, have been quicker to go to service charges because they are too big to qualify for the tip phase-out. “If a restaurant has eliminated tipping, I don’t tip,” Rolf said. “If there is space for a tip, I might tip but not the full 20 percent or 25 percent.”

Clark said, “it is still really fuzzy for people. “Anecdotally, I think people are not automatically doing 20 percent the way Seattleites were previously. Maybe 15 percent. Maybe 10 percent.”

In Minneapolis, whether tipped workers will see a decline in tips is a primary point of disagreement between activists pushing against a“tip penalty” and restaurant workers and owners insisting on the “tip credit.” At dueling rallies last week in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings near TCF Bank Stadium, the conflict was illustrated with signs and chants.

“My Pay. My Tips,” chanted servers and bartenders.

“NRA go away. We deserve better pay,” chanted those with $15 Now, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.

A group of servers and bartenders in Minneapolis have built a more resilient activist group than in Seattle, and they want restaurant owners and managers to guarantee that all workers make at least $15 an hour. But they also favor letting owners pay the $9.50 state minimum wage first and only increase their payment to workers to $15 if the server or bartender doesn’t make at least that much in tips. Without such a tip credit, the servers worry that their restaurants will stop accepting tips and pay wages out of service charges — a change that will cost them income.

Activists cite studies that suggest tipping doesn’t decline regardless of whether there is a tip credit. They argue that all workers should be under one pay system — One Fair Wage — and that pressure to get more tips causes workers to overlook harassment and abuse from customers and managers.

They also worry about tip skimming and wage theft, something a lawsuit alleged is common at Buffalo Wild Wings. At one point during the confrontation John Patrykus, a bartender at Mystic Lake Casino and the Minneapolis Events Center, crossed the 10-foot no man’s land and spoke with Andrea Pittel, a pro-minimum wage volunteer. Afterward, Patrykus said he wishes the two groups could sit down and work out a compromise. “We need a meeting with those guys because 90 percent of the time, we agree,” Patrykus said.

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Keppen Daniel on 04/25/2017 - 12:11 pm.

    Tips Suck

    Whatever happens, I sure hope in 5 years I don’t need to tip a server $3 to carry my food from the kitchen to my table. I’d much rather tip the cook who made my food, not the server who walked it across the restaurant.

    Don’t even get me started about being socially required to pay $1 on my 1000% marked up beer, just because someone on the other side of the bar knows how to pour a beer.

    Pay your employees well, and charge me a fair price for my food. I hate the BS that goes on now, where menus aren’t showing the true full price of the items you order.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 01:31 pm.


      Tipping really isn’t that hard. Yes, it costs more to go out, and tips are part of that. If you don’t want to tip, stay home and eat/drink. I enjoy tipping well for good and friendly service.

      The hard part about being a bartender/ server isn’t pouring drinks or carrying your food out. It’s dealing with [difficult cutomers] especially drunk [difficult customers].

      • Submitted by B. Dalager on 04/25/2017 - 02:07 pm.

        Is it American exceptionalism in a weird way?

        Other countries don’t have tips and it seems to work out just fine. So why do we?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 02:59 pm.


          Where do you get the idea that other countries don’t have tips? The guidelines vary from place to place but the idea of tipping is pretty universal. I have always tipped when I traveled abroad (to about 20 countries) and I just checked some travel books to make sure I wasn’t crazy.

          Maybe the real issue with the minimum wage/tip fight is that people are cheap. I had a couple of jobs when I was younger where I relied on tips, and that has definitely influenced my tipping approach. Maybe everyone should do that.

          Come on people, tip your servers/bartenders/delivery drivers/hotel employees!

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/25/2017 - 04:33 pm.

            Honest question

            Why should ANY employee be forced to rely on the whims of a fickle customer to survive? I work a service job, not hospitality, but face to face with clients. I would never think to expect a tip, as part of my job description is excellent service to each every one of them. It’s included in my hourly wage. Why should restaurant work be any different? It’s not as if we expect servers to treat us poorly before a tip is provided. It seems the message of tipping, a higher reward for EXCELLENT, out of the ordinary service, is diluted when it’s understood that the employee needs the tip to survive, as a utterly necessary part of their pay scale. Pay them a commiserate wage to other service jobs, and let us tip if we feel it’s earned.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 06:18 pm.

              Don’t disagree

              I have no problem getting rid of tipping if employees are getting similarly compensated. I wasn’t really addressing the issues in the article. I’m just saying that under the current circumstances (both here and abroad) where tipping contitutes part of what employee’s are paid, then people should tip.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/30/2017 - 10:02 am.

            The difference is

            At least in Europe, that a tip (usually less than ten percent) is a reward for exceptional service, not part of the basic payment for service.
            I can remember specifically having asked about this in England, Scotland and Italy; I suspect the same is true in other places.
            In the United States, making tipping part of the payment for normal services simply means passing part of the servers’ wages on to the customer, and in practice also avoiding taxes.

  2. Submitted by David Meinert on 04/25/2017 - 03:09 pm.

    Two More Things: Labor Lies and Doesn’t Understand Business

    Two things I didn’t mention but should have in my interview. First, politicians, workers and the business community need to be careful – labor leaders will lie. We saw this in the Seattle debate where labor leaders made deals behind closed doors, then reneged on them. Other times, it wasn’t so much lying, but leaders like Rolf made deals behind closed doors with business leaders and then couldn’t deliver other labor leaders so were forced to renege because of weak leadership. Either way, don’t trust them.

    Second, when it comes to the tip credit, labor fundamentally doesn’t understand the full service restaurant model. When they do, they don’t like it. They care more about changing the model than they do about workers’ incomes. I say we should worry about workers’ incomes, and leave the business model up to the businesses. But be aware they don’t trust you, and they don’t understand how much tipped workers actually make. They see tipped workers as victims who are being abused and stolen from, and themselves as your saviours.

    Lastly, and to go along with my first point, the final deal with labor won’t be the final deal. Labor will attempt to go back and change it in the rules. They have constantly tried to make changes to the rules that would break the agreement they made in the Seattle deal. Again, don’t trust labor leaders, be vigilant in making a fair deal and getting everyone to stick with it.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 03:26 pm.

      Good news

      Thankfully, we have vigilant and always-truthful business interests to keep nasty old labor in check and protect workers. 😉

      You pretty much erased the good points you made in the story with this comment.

  3. Submitted by Norm Champ on 04/25/2017 - 03:31 pm.

    Carve out for Teen Workers?

    When the State Min Wage was discussed, I was concerned programs that offered first time teen workers employment experiences would be forced to follow the State wage increase. Not that I didn’t value Teen workers, but I wanted to maintain the ability to offer as many 14,15 and 16 year olds a chance at a first job. I was told a Teen worker cut out was included, only to discover after passage, that public programs to employ young, eligible workers had to follow the State Minimum wage. As a result our program slots have been reduced 30%, as our wage pool has increased with the Min Wage hikes, but funding has remained flat.

    I have seen numerous coverage of the Tip issue with Min Wage, but very little allowing for a carve out for young teen workers.

    Any Seattle experience with this? I maintain a first job is the stepping stone for lifetime employment, and we need to be cognizant of what a Min $15 would do for low-income teen workers opportunities.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 04/26/2017 - 08:12 am.

      Good Intentions with Bad Consequences

      This is more of the story that you don’t hear and the lost opportunities to teen workers are just part of it. These lost opportunities are hurting many people because it becomes too expensive. You don’t see many jobs in lower income areas because higher wage minimums cause fewer jobs. That’s basic economics. Should everyone try get higher wages? Sure, that would be good overall. But the reality is that it forces less opportunity.
      No one is ever forced to stay in a job. If you don’t like it and the pay, find something else that pays more.
      And all organized labor wants is membership, which brings in dues money. Look at what’s happening with the care workers.

      • Submitted by Rick Moe on 04/30/2017 - 09:57 am.

        Race to the bottom.

        If it comes down to the teenager or the mother having a decent wage, I would pick the mother every time. Where are you coming from? Until we can do better by mom and dad, we don’t need kids taking jobs. Even then, we should think twice. Do we want unaffordable laid off teachers get cash from their children. Who can afford anything they don’t give a toot about.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/30/2017 - 10:04 am.

      It would be better in the long run

      At least for everyone but restaurant owners,
      for teens to stay in school and concentrate on their education.
      Then maybe we’d rank higher than seventeenth in the world in education.

  4. Submitted by Kevin Bradley on 04/25/2017 - 09:45 pm.


  5. Submitted by Tom Johnson on 04/26/2017 - 10:02 am.


    This article is a serious rewrite of history.

    The most significant force in fighting for 15 in Seattle was the Socialist Alternative led by Kshma Sawant. SA pushed the fight further these Clintonite compromisers wanted to go and Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council as a SOCIALIST.

    While Sawant voted for the bill in the end, she condemned the many exceptions and long phase-in time of the law.

    Council member Sawant is now running for re-election and her chief (though not only) issues are rent control and tenants’ rights(things sorely needed in these parts).

    To disappear socialism and a leading U.S. socialist from this article is a an extreme act of journalistic irresponsibility on multiple levels — though it is fairly typical of “progressive” and “liberal” writers in the U.S.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/26/2017 - 10:32 am.


      Sawant is not mentioned because she was irrelevant to the discussion, as she is on most issues. She pushed a politically untenable version of the minimum wage hike that was never going to pass. Seattle residents benefitting from the minimum wage hike should be thanking the “Clintonite compromisers” who did the hard work of getting it passed.

      Interestingly, some of those “Clinton compromisers” were supporters of Bernie Sanders. It’s just that they were interested in making meaningful change, not just grandstanding.

      This article gave Sawant the exact amount of credit (and attention) she deserves: none.

  6. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 04/26/2017 - 10:49 am.

    The central issue here must not be side-tracked: Why should workers in the 21st century America not be able to live on the wages they earn for a 40-hour work week? Why should there always be, at the desperately needy bottom of our economy, workers living at the very edge of poverty, or IN poverty, despite their work?

    Spare us the dumb tales of teenagers’ first jobs: If the job is worth doing, it’s worth paying a decent wage. And besides, most minimum-wage workers are women, with an average age in the mid-thirties. Not teenagers.

    As for bartenders and waiters who say their income will go down to unacceptable levels if a $15 minimum wage is instituted for everyone without a tip penalty: Find another job where what you earn doesn’t jeopardize the earnings of everyone around you in the restaurant or bar. The point is that everyone get a decent wage. You’re trying to tell us that your work is more valuable than anyone else’s, but it’s not. It’s just tipped, currently, where dishwashers and cooks don’t get their work tipped.

    Overall, too: This article’s whole premise is based on Minneapolis and St Paul and Duluth and Rochester being able to set ANY work-conditions ordinances. But the MN Legislature is poised to outlaw, for all future, any MN city establishing paid sick leave ordinances, minimum wage levels, anti-wage theft ordinances, abusive scheduling practices, and other worker protections. The Legislature, following business demands, does not want any improvements to the lives of workers in the entire state of Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/26/2017 - 12:49 pm.


      A typical challenge to a high minimum wage line $15 is that people trying to support a family on that kind of job should pursue a different better job that pays more, and the $15 now crowd and others reject this proposal in lieu of the belief that minimum wage equals living wage.

      This comment is ironic in that in response to the waitstaff who stand to see their wages drop under the $15 scenario because of the challenge to the tipping service model the response is essentially if you don’t like it, find another job that pays better. Why is this advice legitimate when directed to critics of the $15 now proposal but not to the proponents?

      The followon comment that the work of the wait staff is no more important than the dishwashers is also a telling insight. I can tell you my meal at a restaurant has never been ruined or made exceptional by the hard work of the dishwasher.

      • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 04/26/2017 - 04:48 pm.


        I know servers who are expected, and do, share some of their tips with cooks, dishwashers, et. al.

    • Submitted by Jamie Robinson on 04/26/2017 - 02:39 pm.


      The frustrating part of this whole discussion is that the only people who oppose a tip credit are those who don’t fully understand how full service restaurants operate. Here are some realities those people are missing.

      1) There are two opposing $15/hr plans in Minneapolis 15 NOW and Pathway to 15. Both plans mandate a schedule for straight hourly employees (cooks/dishwashers averaging $13.50/hr) to get to $15/hr.

      2) Menu prices and server wages are kept artificially low to allow the tipping culture to flourish to the tune of $28.56/hr ($9.50 base wage plus $19/hr in tips) in Minneapolis. And those tips are taxed as wages on the state and federal level.

      3) The only point of contention between these two plans is whether or not we count tips as wages toward meeting the $15 minimum. Pathway to 15 would count tips as wage and if a server doesn’t reach an average of $15/hr with tips, the employer must make up the difference.

      4) under the 15 Now plan tips wouldn’t be counted as income (but still taxed as income). This means that restaurants would dramatically raise prices and give raises to $28/hr servers for *four* years before $13.50/hr cooks see a dime. Regressive.

      5) that’s why restaurants are moving to a no-tip model in Seattle. Restaurants seize the tips in the form of a service fee then distribute that money the way they see fit. Servers have taken a massive pay cut in restaurants that have done this. Also regressive.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/26/2017 - 03:16 pm.

        Again, why?

        Why should anyone want an income based on something as arbitrary as a tip? Do servers control advertising and menu selection that drives business to the establishment? They certainly are punished for poor decision-making in those areas if reliant on tipping.
        Why as a consumer should I prefer artificially lower prices, as opposed to paying the true cost of my meal, up front and consistently? Why would I be less inclined to tip if that were the case? If the cost of the tip was so detrimental to me from a monetary standpoint, would I even be in the restaurant?

        • Submitted by Jamie Robinson on 04/26/2017 - 05:14 pm.

          Here’s why

          1) Servers earn an average of $28.56/hr in Minneapolis under the tip model.

          2) Because restaurants price menus based on the lowest common denominator of what a customer is willing to pay to capture the highest volume at the best margins, while still being competitive, there is not the kind of margin to pay servers $28.56/hr. That number would be closer to $18/hr according to restaurants that have adapted this way.

          3) customers are more willing to open their wallets to pay servers *directly* rather than pay a business that is really just a tax and profit machine.

          4) daily pay. Servers benefit by taking home most of their income on a daily basis. Who wants to give that up?!

          5) the vast majority of servers like the system the way it is. Why force an industry to change something for no reason?!

          6) restaurants will be fine. It’s the servers who will lose in any adaptation.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/27/2017 - 09:40 am.


            1.OK, that’s the market, I’m not the servers employer, why am I included in the pay scale. I don’t notify my customers of what portion of their bill is dedicated to MY salary.
            2.We, the customers, will get over higher prices. Particularly if the legislation is across the board. Humans are very adaptable animals.
            3.I’m not, so which of our subjective opinions is correct?
            4. See #2 about adaptability, I’m paid twice a month, how EVER do I survive?
            5. Because the other way will be less volatile, more standardized, and allows those of us interested in seeing a decent living wage for all to quit needing to continually complicate what should be a straightforward matter to accommodate one particular industry.
            6. If you think you’re winning now, (28 bucks an hour is chump change in the professional world), there’s little we can do to help.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/27/2017 - 10:37 am.

              Chump change

              It’s very kind of you (and whoever “we” is) to step away from the professional world to try and help these people, even if it’s no use.

              Have you considered that servers may not have to background or education to escape their world of chump change salaries? Or that maybe they simply don’t care to work in the professional world? That $28 is plenty to live on but $15 or $18 isn’t?

              I had jobs where I worked for tips in high school and college, so it was never really about making a living for me. But I worked with people at those jobs who did rely on tips for a living, and as I said in another comment, it has affected my approach to tipping and view on this issue. Instead of simply dismissing the concerns of someone actually affected, maybe you should listen.

            • Submitted by Jamie Robinson on 04/27/2017 - 12:09 pm.


              whether or not you like the tipping culture as a restaurant customer, or you a someone from outside the industry looking in there are two proposals in front of the City Council and they will vote on these in early June. Change is inevitable. Here are your choices…

              1) 15 NOW’s proposal with no tip credit will force restaurants to change and abandon the tip model. Servers *will* take a dramatic pay cut. OR, under the 15 Now model, Restaurants that chose to stay with the tip model will increase prices to struggle to get mandated pay Increases to the highest earners in the restaurant for *four* years before $13.50/hr cooks see a dime. regressive.

              2) Pathway to 15 proposal with the tip credit freezes servers hourly wage at the state minimum ($9.50/hr plus annual increases pegged to inflation), allowing restaurants to keep the tipping model and $28/hr earnings, while *everyone* else gets a mandated raise. Essentially *everyone* wins with a tip credit. Progressive.

              So, 15 Now (no tip credit)= someone loses
              Pathway to 15 (tip credit) = nobody loses
              It is irrelevant is one likes or dislikes the tipping culture or the system. One of these is going to happen. The city has the votes for choice #1.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/30/2017 - 10:11 am.

            How many hours a day do most servers work?

            Many are called in only when business justifies their service — often during lunch and supper (depends on the restaurant) peak hours. So they’re not always working 8 hours a day.
            Also, I suspect that the wage distribution is skewed by a small number of workers at high end restaurants.
            I’d be more interested in the MEDIAN total income — the 50% amount, which is not skewed by a few extreme values.
            For example: the median of 5, 10 and 15 and 5 10 and 100 is the same: $10.
            The averages are quite different (exercise left to the reader).

  7. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 04/26/2017 - 04:21 pm.

    If waiters believe their work is worth $30 an hour, that’s what their employer should pay them. While the employer pays at least $15 (we can slide our way slowly to that, if foot-draggers insist that the industry will massively fail unless we do) to all its other workers.

    The point is to raise the bar to a decent wage, all around. Instead of starting at less than $3 an hour (for tipped workers in Wisconsin), let’s start at $15 for everybody and let those highly-skilled bartenders get the higher wages they believe reflect their skills and value to the employer.

  8. Submitted by Hester Corvin on 05/02/2017 - 12:46 pm.

    Not sure about those tipping anecdotes…

    This was interesting to read as a Seattle resident who has been following this fight since it started. I wish there had been a mention of the big fast food worker strikes that started it off! But I am curious about the anecdotes saying people are tipping less. I and the people I eat out with still tip a full 20% every time, and I haven’t heard any friends or acquaintances discuss tipping less now that wages are going up (unless we’re at one of the few places that has eliminated tips entirely and asks customers not to tip). I have no idea if all of my friends and I are complete outliers, but reducing tips is definitely not a universal practice in Seattle.

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