Heather Bray worked as a server for more than a decade before achieving her version of the American dream: opening her own restaurant.
After more than six years, though, the owner of The Lowbrow in south Minneapolis is worried about what will happen if the City Council approves a $15 minimum wage without an exemption for tipped workers, also known as a tip credit. To keep paying her 43 employees, Bray said, she’d have to significantly raise prices.
“I fear that everything we worked so hard for will crumble,” she said.
Bray was one of about 50 restaurant workers who gathered Tuesday near Minneapolis City Hall to push for a tip credit as part of the proposed $15 an hour minimum wage.
In February, a coalition of Minneapolis restaurants launched a campaign to phase in the wage hike and include a credit for tipped employees. The idea is that tipped employees would continue to earn the $9.50 state minimum wage, but restaurants would make up the difference if that plus tips did not add up to $15 an hour.
“We don’t want anyone to make less than $15 an hour — what we’re talking about is proper execution of the minimum wage,” said Jennifer Schellenberg, a bartender at Red Rabbit in Minneapolis and organizer of Tuesday’s protest.
Most members of the City Council, which is expected to discuss the wage hike this summer, have expressed support for a $15 minimum wage without a tip credit. If the ordinance passes, Minneapolis will join Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Seattle and Washington, D.C., exempt tipped workers from the wage hike, but in Seattle, the exemption is temporary.
Tipped restaurant employees in Minneapolis average more than $28 an hour in wages and tips, according to a March survey from the group Pathway to $15, which supports the tip credit. Michaelann Gillis, who works at Smack Shack in Minneapolis, said her family survives because of the restaurant industry and the flexibility and support network it provides.
“We’re not asking for more,” she said. “We’re asking for what we have.”