christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – The Connecticut Restaurant Association was back at the state Capitol Thursday to ask lawmakers not to increase wages for servers and bartenders.

Last year, when lawmakers increased the minimum wage in 2019 they also decoupled it from tipped wages. That means when the minimum wage went up to $11 per hour on October 1, 2019, the tipped wage for servers and bartenders did not go up. It stayed at $6.38 an hour for servers and $8.23 for bartenders.

If the minimum wage and the tipped wage were still linked the tipped wage would have gone up to $9.48 an hour for servers and $12.23 an hour for bartenders by 2023.

The association representing restaurant owners said any increase in the tipped wage at this point would have a detrimental impact on their businesses, which they say already operate on the margins.

“What the tipped wage is not, it’s not a lower wage for tipped employees,” Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said.

He said servers and bartenders are guaranteed to make at least the state minimum wage if they don’t earn enough in tips to bring them up to $11 an hour.

“The reality is most tipped employees already bring home well north of the minimum wage,” Dolch said.

In Connecticut it’s an average of $25 an hour, according to Dolch.

Sal Luciano, president of the AFL-CIO, said Connecticut has approximately 48,000 tipped workers and they are disproportionately women, African American and Latino. He said in 2018 they earned a median hourly wage of $10.57 an hour, including tips.

“The tip credit is a fraction of the minimum wage employers of tipped employees are allowed to pay as long as the gratuities earned by employees bring their wages up to the full minimum wage. Historically, the tip credit in Connecticut had been a percentage of the minimum wage,” Luciano said in written testimony. “ In 2019, when the minimum wage was $10.10 per hour, the tip credit was 36.8% of the minimum wage for servers and 18.5% of the minimum wage for bartenders.”

Dolch said the current tipped wage of $6.38 per hour for servers is one of the highest in the country and the highest in New England by at least $2.

The proposal to increase the tipped wage was one of the bills being heard Thursday by the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

The restaurant industry feels targeted by lawmakers.

They sought legislation last year to make it harder for servers to sue them for how they keep track of server hours.

More than a dozen class action lawsuits have been filed, mostly by one law firm against a number of restaurants for not appropriately keeping track of servers’ hours based on Department of Labor guidance.

Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed the original legislation, but was able to work out a deal with lawmakers over a bill that seeks to clarify how restaurants keep track of their employees’ hours. The Department of Labor is expected to come out with new guidance by April 1.

Dolch said they would like the legislature to wait until those changes happen before moving forward with more legislation that would impact a $8.9 billion industry in the state.

He said wage compression is real and customers are seeing food costs going up as a result of the increase in the minimum wage.

“We don’t feel that a server or bartender needs a raise,” Dolch said.

Madeline Granato, policy director for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said tipped workers are already among the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in our economy.

“The weekly earnings of tipped workers are often uncertain due to unpredictable schedules and customer attendance in the restaurant business. Research also demonstrates that tipping is a discriminatory practice, as it benefits white service workers who often receive larger tips for the same quality services as black service workers.”