Sen. Rob Sampson, Sen. Julie Kushner, and Rep. Manny Sanchez Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee advanced a proposal Tuesday that would eliminate Connecticut’s tip credit, a long-standing policy allowing restaurants to pay a subminimum wage with the understanding that servers will make up the difference in tips. 

The panel approved the bill on an 8-4, partisan vote during its final meeting to pass its own proposals. The legislation removes from state law the subminimum wage often received by servers, bartenders and some hotel staff and requires their employers to pay them at least minimum wage.

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In Connecticut, the subminimum wage can be as low as $6.38 while the standard minimum wage currently sits at $14 per hour and will rise to $15 in June.

Democratic proponents of the bill said little during Tuesday’s meeting while several Republican lawmakers articulated concerns that the bill would hurt restaurants and their staff. The change was unnecessary, they said, because state law already requires employers to compensate staff if they are notified that tips failed to put that employee over the minimum wage threshold.

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, argued the change and minimum wages in general result in fewer jobs.

“Employers do not pay people $14 or $15 an hour for a job that is worth $10,” Sampson said. “As a result, what you are doing is you’re eliminating that job that used to exist. Effectively, minimum wages create a ban on jobs. A job that pays $10 an hour is now banned in the state of Connecticut.”

However, proponents point to a national movement to bring waitstaff in line with workers in other industries. During a public hearing earlier this month, Saru Jayaraman, president of the national advocacy group One Fair Wage, told the committee that seven states require a full minimum wage and the policy has had positive benefits for workers including making them less reliant on customer tips in order to make a living. 

“Workers in these [seven] states have also reported one half the rate of sexual harassment as the states that allow tipped workers to be paid a subminimum wage as little as $2.13 an hour,” Jayaraman said

The treatment of tipped workers came up during Tuesday’s debate on the bill. Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, recalled testimony from workers who reported sexual advances from customers or being directed to take off face masks in order to receive a larger tip. 

Weir called the behavior “embarrassing” but said he did not believe the bill would prevent the conduct. Instead, he said it would discourage customers from tipping. 

“This an opportunity, when we’re out, to reward good service and I think this bill flies in the face of that,” he said. “It doesn’t give any consideration for merit, for good service. I think quite frankly it’s going to be confusing for people going out.”

The bill will now move to the state Senate for consideration