This time last year, the idea of ending tipping in restaurants was the hottest topic out there. A year later, tipping is still the norm in the vast majority of places, but in this past election cycle, at least one state has voted to try to improve tipped workers’ base salaries at the governmental level.
On Tuesday, by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent, the residents of Maine approved Question 4, an initiative intended to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 and, importantly for the restaurant industry, to bring the state’s tipped minimum wage in line with its regular minimum wage by 2024. If the legislation goes into effect, it would make Maine the eighth state where both the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage are the same: Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have already done away with the idea of having a tip credit against the legal minimum wage.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, restaurant industry representatives in the state are already appealing to the state legislature to tweak the measure. According to the Portland Press Herald, though these opponents of the decision aren’t looking to ax the initiative entirely, they’re specifically hoping to amend the choice to remove the tip credit. “For restaurants in the state, the results of Question 4 are going to be, you know, seismic,” Peter Gore, vice president of advocacy and government relations for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying by the paper. “I’m not sure if people fully comprehend what this is going to do to the many restaurants and small businesses they frequent.” Yes, paying people more money can be pretty tough to wrap your head around.
Turns out Gore had been preparing for the vote before it even happened and already thinks there’s some wiggle room. “We did have legislators tell us last session that if this question passes, they would be willing to take a look at it,” he was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, Amy Halsted, the lead organizer of the campaign to boost wages, thinks that talk is ridiculous. “I think it would be both wrong and very surprising for the Legislature to act against the will of the people,” she said.
The first jump is scheduled to happen in 2017, with the minimum wage going up to $9 and the tipped minimum wage going up to $5. I guess Mainers will want to keep an eye on the price of their lobster rolls.