Though a recount in the gubernatorial race is inevitable, it’s highly likely that Sen. Mark Dayton will be Minnesota’s next governor. In a tightly contested race, the controversy over tips for wait staff may have made all the difference.
In case you’ve not been paying attention, Rep. Tom Emmer got into hot water early in the campaign for suggesting a change to the state’s minimum wage law. The technical term is a “tip credit,” which is in place in a number of states, but in the public mind, it means “pay people less than the minimum wage.”
Even so, the credit doesn’t mean what you think it does. Let’s take as an example how the state of North Carolina administers it. That state’s Department of Labor says, “Employers in North Carolina are permitted to take a credit for a certain amount of tips earned by their employees toward the employers’ payment of the minimum wage.” In any case, “it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that all tipped employees earn at least the minimum wage in cash wages and tips” (emphasis added). In other words, tipped employees earn at least the same minimum wage as everyone else, and perhaps more.
The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes the practice, allowing employers to pay a “cash” minimum wage of as little as $2.13 an hour if the employee is eligible for tips. (The minimum wage for everyone else is $7.25 an hour.) According to the department, 43 states have a tip credit, so it’s hardly a novel idea.
Emmer compounded the problem by comments suggesting he thinks most servers earn $100,000 a year. It screamed both “out of touch!” and “he wants to stick it to the working man!”
On the merits, Emmer was right in suggesting that Minnesota should follow the example of other states. A minimum wage law of any sort interferes in the ability of workers and employers to come to their own terms. It also increases unemployment and encourages employers to cut back on training that can lead to higher-paid employment. It also partially undermines the notion of tipping in the first place, which (like it or not) is a key part of being a customer of the hospitality industry.
But Emmer’s comments were, to use a sports analogy, an unforced error. In this case, “any publicity is good publicity” is simply not true. By contrast, candidates that speak in platitudes and generalities are more likely to win, since they don’t offend specific groups of people (restaurant wait staff) or throw off a toxic image.