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Food & Drink

Seattle Waiters and Bartenders Make the Case Against a $15 Minimum Wage

Seattle’s push to become the first big U.S. city with a $15-an-hour minimum wage has hit a snag: opposition from waiters and bartenders.

Fearing a dip in their tip income, some are telling local politicians they’re just fine with the status quo. In Washington state, that means $9.32 an hour—plus tips that, for Seattle bartender Bridget Maloney, can add another $45 an hour on weekends. She’s hearing that customers may be stingier if the wage measure pushed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray passes.

“People are talking about moving to a European system of tipping,” says Maloney, 28, meaning less automatic and not as generous. She has become a spokeswoman for a group called Tips Are Wages, appearing in the Seattle Times, KIRO Radio, and other local media to argue for a carve-out that keeps tipped workers at a lower minimum. “I have built a life around the current model of tipping,” she says.

The mayor missed his own deadline to produce a minimum-wage proposal last week, saying his advisers from business and labor are “stuck” over certain issues. Murray, a Democrat, was elected in November after pledging to raise the minimum to $15.

Restaurants have warned they might boost menu prices as much as 25 percent or force servers to share more of their tips with cooks, dishwashers, and other back-of-the-house staff. The average check at Staple & Fancy and eight other restaurants owned by Ethan Stowell, named a “Best New Chef All Star” by Food & Wine magazine, might go from $94 to $117, according to a presentation to the Seattle city council. Pagliacci Pizza, known for such specialties as the salmon primo, says it might remove the tip line from receipts.

Kshama Sawant, a socialist elected to the council on her own $15 pledge, calls those suggestions “fear mongering” and says people who cling to tips miss the point. “We don’t want any worker to be beholden to the mood of the customer on any given day,” she says.

Academic studies commissioned by Seattle showed a smaller effect on restaurant prices: about 0.7 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage. They also estimated that a $15 minimum would boost pay for about 100,000 people—or almost one in four of the city’s workers.

Bartender Maloney says she’s one minimum-wage worker who doesn’t need the help. After working double shifts and long nights, she’s enjoying a vacation. She voiced her opposition via e-mail—from Barcelona.

Robison is Seattle bureau chief for Bloomberg News.

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