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Don’t Squash Free Speech

By
Emily White

The fight for One Fair Wage in Minneapolis – a $15-per-hour minimum wage without a tip penalty – has gotten brutal as we get closer to the finish line, with an expected vote by the City Council on Friday. Of course, that means bosses are resorting to classic tactics like misinformation campaigns, bullying and intimidation to discourage servers from calling for one fair wage.

Let’s talk about the effort to erode support through misinformation. We’re hearing a lot from people who are on either side of this issue, but what about those who haven’t formed their opinion? They deserve the truth about what the proposed measure would and wouldn’t do. They deserve the space to weigh the facts and make their own decision free from coercion. Instead, too many servers in Minneapolis are receiving false information about the so-called “dangers” of paying a living wage. The truth is clear. One Fair Wage allows workers to increase their overall income because tipping will still be allowed.

I recently testified at the Minneapolis City Council public hearing on a $15-per-hour minimum wage. I shared my experience working as a server in neighboring North Dakota, which does have a tip penalty for service workers. I shared that when I told my boss about the constant sexual harassment I faced on the job, he told me I would have to please customers who treated me like an object to get good tips. I felt like I could not speak out about what I was experiencing because my paycheck didn’t cover my basic costs and I primarily relied on tips to cover my living expenses. Restaurant servers should be able to trust that if they encounter a hostile or abusive customer, their employers will have their backs and encourage them to speak up.

The tip penalty being debated as part of the citywide $15-per-hour minimum wage increase would ensure employers would put profits first. Why? Because the tip penalty creates a financial incentive for the employer to encourage tipping so they don't have to pay the full $15-per-hour wage. If the customer tips above the state minimum of $9.50 per hour, that's money in the employer's pocket.

What’s been happening to the working people pushing for one fair wage should concern us all. Servers who have spoken out publicly against a tip penalty have been skewered by the mob voices of Facebook. In a few cases, it’s looked like this: They find you on social media, comb through your work history, call your old employers, and investigate you to find any shred of evidence to discredit you. Several pro-$15-per-hour servers have quit their jobs during the campaign because they were scared away from them.

We should be able to express our First Amendment right to assemble for better conditions at work without fear of employer retribution or manipulation. I want servers – and all working people – to feel safe while speaking up together about their real experiences, struggles and desires to have a seat at the table. They shouldn’t feel the need to be mouthpieces, sharing their employers’ talking points in order to keep their jobs.

Another example? One of my closest friends works for a local restaurant that already pays tipped servers well above the minimum wage, and pays most of the cooks above $15 per hour. She is close to the owners, who have been promoting the industry-backed Pathway to $15’s pro-tip penalty message. She doesn’t understand why her employer would be against raising wages if that employer is already opting to pay close to the new minimum wage. She has not been engaged in this fight, but the hostile campaign tactics deployed during this campaign have unfortunately had the intended chilling effect, quieting proponents and shutting down the democratic debate of policies based on their merits.

We should be working together to make sure all Minneapolis workers can live full lives, pay their bills, spend time with their families, and have the ability to speak out for better conditions on the job and in their communities without fear of bullying or intimidation. City Council support for one fair wage would send a strong signal that intimidation tactics have no place in the Twin Cities.

 

Emily White is a former restaurant server and organizer for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Cuts to health care would have dire effects on working people.

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