Ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled public hearing on a proposed $15 minimum wage in St. Paul, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) says it has enough votes on the City Council to exempt tipped workers from the citywide wage hike.

In a recent e-mail to MLBA members, Director of Membership Angela Marlow said four of seven council members support the exemption, including one who planned to introduce an ordinance amendment exempting tipped workers.

“The momentum is on our side, let’s keep it up!” Marlow wrote, encouraging MLBA members to contact council members and ask them to support a tip exemption. The e-mail listed council members Dai Thao, Rebecca Noecker, Dan Bostrom and Jane Prince as supporters, City Council President Amy Brendmoen as “on the fence” and council members Chris Tolbert and Mitra Jalali Nelson as “non-supporters.”

As in Minneapolis last year, the debate over whether tips should count as wages has dominated the minimum wage discussion in St. Paul. Supporters say that without a “tip credit” that allows employers to pay a lower base wage and factor tips into total wages, restaurants may go out of business. Opponents counter that if tipped workers are excluded from the minimum wage increase, they’ll be stuck with unpredictable incomes that rely on tips — a situation that can lead to sexual harassment and wage theft.

An organization that opposes the exemption, 15 Now Minnesota, posted a copy of the MLBA e-mail on its Facebook page Sunday.

“It was pretty jaw-dropping to see exactly what their backroom dealing looks like,” said Celeste Robinson, an organizer with 15 Now Minnesota. “I think what we’re seeing is council members are telling people what they want to hear.”

The council will hold a public hearing on the minimum wage ordinance Wednesday evening at City Hall and could vote as soon as Nov. 14.

Of the four council members identified as supporters of the exemption for tipped workers, two responded to Star Tribune inquiries Monday.

Thao said he also hadn’t seen the MLBA e-mail but he would support a temporary tip exemption so that full-service restaurants could adapt to the higher wage.

Prince said she was considering some proposals “that suggested a limited use of the tip credit.”

“I’m definitely not supporting an across-the-board tip credit,” she said.

While the MLBA e-mail said Brendmoen was “on the fence” about the tip credit issue, she denied that in an interview. “I’m not entertaining a tip credit policy,” she said Monday.

“It’s clearly an issue that has become a rallying point around this conversation, and I really do hear all sides of the issue,” Brendmoen said. “But even at $15 an hour, that’s a minimum wage, not even a living wage for St. Paul and Ramsey County.”

MLBA Executive Director Tony Chesak declined to provide details about conversations with council members but said the MLBA, which represents more than 1,700 liquor license holders across the state, is hopeful that St. Paul’s ordinance will include an exemption for tipped workers.

“We have some council members that are listening to the concerns of the business community,” he said.

Under the proposed ordinance, employers would be required to begin phasing in the wage increase in 2020. City employees would reach $15 an hour first, in July 2022, followed by workers at large businesses — those with at least 100 employees — in July 2023.

Thao introduced an amendment allowing businesses with fewer than 100 employees to raise the minimum wage more slowly. Under the amendment, micro businesses — those with five or fewer employees — would reach $15 an hour on July 1, 2028.