Minnesota state Rep. Tom Emmer, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, appears to be going into damage control mode in the wake of his proposal to lower the minimum wage for waiters by crediting their tips towards the state’s wage requirement. He now has a listening tour session coming up this Wednesday, at which he will meet with servers.
Emmer said earlier this week that he would support such an idea, which is common in most other states. Minnesota is one of seven states that do not permit employers to pay less than the standard minimum wage to tipped workers. Federal law permits tipped workers’ wages to be as low as $2.13 per hour, absent state regulation to the contrary, with tips given to workers credited against the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour employers are required to pay.
Whatever the economic merits of the policy might be, what really got Emmer in trouble was this quote, the substance of which he attributed to a restaurateur who was hosting the event in question: “With the tips that they get to take home, there are some people earning over $100,000 a year. More than the very people providing the jobs and investing not only their life savings but their families’ future.” Emmer’s claim that wait staff were making six-figure salaries did not play well in the media.
Emmer tried to backtrack by posting a statement on his website, declaring that his proposal would not actually affect workers’ wages at all: “I want the wait staff at a restaurant to be successful and make as much as they can, and a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters shows that tip credits have essentially no negative impact on wages for tipped employees. So contrary to what some people are saying, I have no interest in ‘cutting wages.'”
The Star Tribune published an editorial with the fitting title, “Tip to Emmer: Drop gratuity idea.” Of his insistence that economic forces would result in workers’ pay remaining the same, they said: “The result is a contradictory message with a cynical aftertaste. Emmer appears to be telling business owners that he wants to do them a favor at their workers’ expense. Then he tells those same workers: Don’t worry. Your employers will discover they can’t really lower your pay, no matter what state law says.”
Meanwhile, the restaurant owner involved said that he had received hateful phone calls over the matter. He also insisted that he never actually told Emmer that his staff members were making over $100,000, and that Emmer’s quote itself was “manipulated.” It should be noted that the Star Tribune’s reporter stands by the quote, saying that it is in on tape — and that Minnesota Public Radio separately reported Emmer saying the same thing.
In his press release announcing the listening session with servers, Emmer said: “This week we met with business owners and next week we will listen to the employees, especially servers concerned about the tip credit issue. I’m looking forward to a robust discussion.”
Late Update: Here is a video of Emmer’s original remarks, courtesy of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s website “Servers Against Tom Emmer.”