Saturday, March 2, 2013

It’s Time To Get Rid of Tipping! (And Indentured Servitude)

“In the American democracy to be servile is incompatible with citizenship. Every tip given in the United States is a blow at our experiment in democracy. The custom announces to the world….that we do not believe practically that ‘all men are created equal’…….Those Americans who dislike self-respect in servants are undesirable citizens; they belong in an aristocracy.” – William R. Scott, 1916

(Shown by Chris Hayes in a freeze frame this morning)

Former waitress Victoria Bruton, this morning on Chris Hayes’ ‘UP’ (in his topic to do with the food industry) made one of the most compelling arguments ever for getting rid of the institution of tipping in restaurants. As she put it to Chris, when asked if she’d have preferred a straight weekly wage to tips:

“Oh, no question! By the end of the week I know how many hours I’ve worked so I know how much I will actually get to pay my bills. I no longer have to say ‘Oh, I need to make 300 dollars! Come on, 300 dollars!’ "

Her point is that with even a minimum wage she'd have been better off because she no longer would have to gamble on whether she could pay her bills, or make a difficult choice between paying the gas bill and the electric bill. This is germane because the ‘tipping minimum wage’ of $2.13 an HOUR, hasn’t changed in 22 years!

Most Americans who tip, including me (on the odd occasion of going to eat out), think they are rewarding service well done, not actually paying most of a worker’s wage. But with the tipping wage as low as 2.13 an hour this is often the case. As Ms. Bruton observed, her tipping minimum usually boiled down to zero at the end of her work week, thanks to taxes, withholding etc. and so all her actual “wage” needed to be from tips.

Of course, this is an abomination. The tip, if it exists at all, should be on TOP of a basic decent wage (at least $8 an hour) not substitute for it! This has always been the problem I have had with tipping culture in the U.S. By contrast, in Europe, the restaurants incorporate a gratuity in the final tab and this is always in addition to the workers’ regular wage which is a livable wage. No customer has to remotely decide how much to add to the tab because the bill is already completed. No wonder then that staff in Europe enjoy a higher standard of living. They can actually afford to pay off any college loans!

Chris’ guest Saru Jayaraman also observed that 7 states in the U.S. provide tips on top of a decent minimum wage, including California, Nevada and Oregon. She also pointed out that having a real minimum wage applied to the workers in the restaurant industry would not increase expenses more than 10 cents or so per worker per day and so the claim that restaurateurs would have to raise prices by twenty percent or more is nonsense.

Waiters and waitresses in the U.S. also need to be aware of how the debased ‘grub for tips’ culture in the U.S. came about. As noted by Chris in his brief historical retrospective, the agreement was made in the 1990s, when the likes of Herman Cain agreed to raise the federal minimum wage if the tipping minimum wage was to he “kept at $2.13 an hour forever”.

Forever! Are you effing kidding me? With inflation ever going on and eating up real wages, you will keep restaurant workers at the level of slaves or indentured servants?

Alas, with our predominantly Confederate slave-labor favoring congress, it appears any changes will have to come from the bottom up as opposed to top down. Unless restaurant workers themselves agitate for a real federal minimum wage they can live on, they will be hoist on the petard of gambling whether their tips will close their budget gaps at the end of the week.

Given that the restaurant biz inevitably declines during recessions (and we may be in for another with the sequester) tips becomes a dicey way to earn a living.

The good news? As Ms. Jayaraman  noted, there will be a bill introduced Tuesday in Congress, co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin and George Miller in the House to “finally raise the tipping minimum wage for the first time in two decades”.

The bad news? Since the House is ruled by pro-Confederate, Tea Party austerity zealots-  with boners for major deficit reduction-   it is as likely that bill will pass as that extraterrestrials will land and abduct all the Tea- Peas  for servitude in the Zeta Reticuli system!

No comments: