Proposal to Let Bosses Keep Workers’ Tips Provokes Investigation


Labor activists drop a banner and stage a protest in front of the Department of Labor, February 5, 2018.

Trump labor officials sparked outrage late last year by proposing a reform that would allow bosses to pocket their employees’ tips. But even these unabashedly anti-labor labor officials were apparently too embarrassed to reveal just how much this rule change would harm restaurant servers and other tipped workers.

According to a Bloomberg exposé, the Department “shelved” its own economic analysis of the proposal when the numbers indicated workers could lose billions of dollars in income. That cowardly maneuver has turned up the klieg lights on this whole nefarious, industry-driven effort. Under pressure from labor activists, the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General has just launched an audit of the rulemaking process.

The Institute for Policy Studies, the National Employment Law Project, and numerous other groups filed letters urging the Department of Labor to immediately withdraw the proposal. If the Department does not take this action, the pro-worker groups are demanding that the public be allowed to weigh in on the matter after the audit is completed.

Before the official public comment period closed on February 5, the Department of Labor received about 215,000 comment letters, with the vast majority in opposition to the proposal. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for better working conditions for restaurant workers, also organized a protest outside the Department’s headquarters where a banner was hung off the side of the building with the slogan “Trump Don’t Steal Our Tips.”

“The Department of Labor should be focused on improving tipped workers’ economic security,” wrote Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh in the organization’s public comment letter. “And yet by abolishing the regulation affirming that tips are the property of the employee who earned them, the Department would make these workers, who are primarily women and people of color, even more vulnerable to exploitation.”

The Economic Policy Institute estimates the proposal would result in employers taking $ 5.8 billion in tips from workers. This would be a severe blow in an industry where abuse is already rampant. Employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers who pay a subminimum wage ($ 2.13 at the federal level) are technically required to ensure that tips bring employee wages up to at least the full minimum wage, but difficulties in enforcement result in high noncompliance rates.

The National Restaurant Association is attempting to frame the proposed rule as an initiative to allow for tip pooling to end pay disparities between the front and back of the house in restaurants. But there’s no guarantee tips stay in the hands of workers — whether they work in the front or the back of the house.

The language in the proposal suggests that employers could allocate tips to make capital improvements or lower menu prices, which the Department of Labor claims could have “potential benefits to employees and the economy overall.” This is just “bogus trickledown theory,” IPS Director Cavanagh wrote. “It’s designed to distract attention from a rule that would clearly lead to even more severe exploitation of tipped workers.”

By burying their internal economic analysis, Labor Department officials may have shot themselves in the foot, suggests Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project. In an interview with the publication Law 360, Conti said the proposal could be “very vulnerable” to a legal challenge if the Labor Department finalizes it without publishing an underlying economic analysis on the costs and benefits.

The post Proposal to Let Bosses Keep Workers’ Tips Provokes Investigation appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Who Owns Tips? If Trump’s Department of Labor Gets Its Way, Not Workers

Restaurant workers in a busy kitchen

Thea Bryan is a single mother putting herself through graduate school. She spends her days at an unpaid internship for her social work program. At nights, she bartends to support herself, earning most of her income through tips. Sometimes, the pay is lucrative. But around October, her work — and money — started to lag. “When business is slow, as it has been for me lately, I don’t get paid. The managers get paid, the kitchen staff gets paid, the dishwasher gets paid. I don’t,” Bryan said.

As it stands, the lack of customers has already had a profound effect on her life. But a new proposal from the Department of Labor could make things much worse for Bryan. Under the proposed rule, she might have to hand those tips — the basis of her income — over to her bosses. The new Department of Labor proposal says that employers who pay tipped workers a full minimum wage (as opposed to the subminimum wage for tipped workers) would be able to take ownership of the tips that customers leave for their servers. This would overturn decades of precedent that keeps those tips in the hands of the people in the line of service, like Bryan.

Bryan shared her story at a press briefing put on by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United on December 12. “Why is there such an effort to keep people from making decent wages?” Bryan asked. “First they don’t want to pay an decent hourly wage if you get tips, now they want to take your tips if you make a decent hourly wage!”

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota joined Bryan at the press conference, both noting that the rule was another example of President Trump standing with the powerful against the interests of the people. One of those powerful groups? The National Restaurant Association, also known as “the other NRA.” Alongside the Department of Labor, the industry lobby is framing the proposed rule as an initiative to allow for tip pooling to end pay disparities between the front and back of the house.

What ROC United and other advocacy groups point out, though, is that there’s no provision to ensure that tips stay in the hands of workers and not their bosses. In fact, the language in proposal suggests that employers could allocate tips to make capital improvements or lower menu prices, which they say has “potential benefits to employees and the economy overall.” Or a tip left for a server could go to the employer instead.

That transfer of money from workers up to their bosses is no small change. If the rule is enacted, the Economic Policy Institute says that employers would take $ 5.8 billion in tips from workers, an estimate they call conservative. The backdrop to this is an industry that’s already rife with wage theft, which makes worker advocates especially concerned.

For example, employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers can pay tipped workers $ 2.13 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the full minimum wage. But enforcement is lax — and that’s something Bryan knows from experience. She says she’s gone two weeks without getting paid a minimum wage, and hasn’t been able to get her employer to make up the difference.

Wage theft is also already an issue with tips, as ROC United co-director Saru Jayaraman pointed out at the press briefing. ROC United has surveyed nearly 10,000 restaurant workers, Jayaraman said, and one in five of them reported that employers have taken a portion of their tips, even though that’s currently not legal.

The Department of Labor is already feeling the pressure against this rule. Originally, they had planned to allow comments for 30 days beginning on December 5th — right through the holiday season, one of the busiest times of the year for restaurant workers. But Jayaraman said tens of thousands of people submitted comments against the rule in the first three days alone. The agency eventually extended the deadline to 60 days after public pressure, including a letter from more than 40 House Democrats calling for more time.

The battle over tips is only adding to Bryan’s stress over wages, which she says makes her feel like a pressure cooker. “My son is 11 years old. I would like to know how much money I will be making any given month so I can enroll him in after school activities and maybe take him to the movies every once in a while, or pay my rent.” Right now, she says that’s not possible for her.

That’s why Bryan’s not limiting her advocacy to the fight over owning tips. She’s also active in the One Fair Wage campaign in Washington, D.C. which calls for an end to the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Bryan says she’d like to see people in the service industry get a livable minimum wage, just like any other worker would expect. “I’m a restaurant professional, and I deserve a professional wage.”

The post Who Owns Tips? If Trump’s Department of Labor Gets Its Way, Not Workers appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


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Love the Hands that Feed You. 6 Tips for a More Sustainable Valentine’s Day – Huffington Post

This Valentine’s Day, before planning your romantic dinner or buying roses and chocolate, think about how your choices will affect the hands that feed you.

According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, the average consumer spends around US$ 116 on Valentine’s Day, and florists make about US$ 400 million in revenue. Approximately 48 percent of consumers spend money on candy, 34 percent spend money on flowers, and about 35 percent dine out.

Workers in these industries, including service workers and farm laborers, are among the lowest paid in the world. They face exposure to pesticides and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Valentine’s Day is the highest grossing day for the US$ 600 billion restaurant industry; yet the 4.3 million tipped workers in the United States only earn US$ 2.13 per hour. Unfortunately, this rate has remained the same for more than 23 years.

The choices we make as eaters can support the livelihoods of farm and restaurant workers, and organizations like the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, Fairfood, and Rainforest Alliance are gathering citizen support for workers’ rights.

This Valentine’s Day, spread the love by supporting farmworkers and demanding justice in the food system!

1. Rethink the Roses
Every rose has its thorn, and a Valentine’s Day rose is no exception. From Ecuador to Colombia to Southeast Asia, the cut flower industry is characterized by high energy use, low labor standards, and low regulation. Floriculture takes up valuable land and water, and can crowd out local food production and family farms. In Colombia, women make up the majority of flower pickers, and face difficult working conditions, health hazards, and sexual harassment. According to Oxfam, some women in the Colombian flower industry work for more than 15 hours per day.

Finding fair trade and sustainable flowers can be challenging, but Fairtrade International and Rainforest Alliance provide certification to qualified producers. Researchers at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences propose American flower production as an alternative to imported flowers, which come at a high energy cost: flowers are picked in the middle of the night and transported via cold chains to U.S. customers. This process requires vast amounts of energy to quickly cool flowers and prevent fragile blossoms from wilting during travel.

Whole Foods is cashing in on the US$ 19 billion Americans are expected to spend on flowers this year by offering delivery of its “Whole Trade” flowers. According to marketing reporter, Bruce Horovitz from USA Today this could, “undercut the costs of both local florists and national delivery services,” but also offers higher quality and more sustainable options.

2. Care about the Cocoa
Chocolate’s primary ingredient, cocoa, is fraught with sustainability issues, from its huge water footprint to overuse of pesticides. Africa produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, but more than 60 percent of consumption occurs in North America and Europe. Fair Trade chocolate, Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic chocolate are some of the many options for sustainable chocolate.

One company, M?noa Chocolate, has recently implemented a “bean to bar” approach to chocolate, reducing food waste by making tea from cocoa byproduct. Others, like Cemoi, are working to improve transparency within their supply chains, which will improve farmer incomes and quality control in post-harvest handling. In 2009, Mars partnered with Rainforest Alliance to receive certification. Companies such as worker cooperative Equal Exchange have been implementing high standards through partnerships with small farmer co-ops for more than 25 years. Look for the Equal Exchange sticker on chocolate, bananas, olive oil, coffee, and tea.

3. Focus on Food Workers
Participate in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ weekend of action by sending a clear message to Wendy’s: stop breaking our hearts and join the fair food program! Take a Wendy’s selfie to voice your support for farmworker justice. The Fair Food Program is a worker-driven, consumer-powered alliance, dedicated to farmworker justice and supply chain transparency. Wendy’s is the last of the five largest fast food corporations to resist participation in the Program, a commitment that requires companies to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes to support farmworkers in Florida.

You can also pledge to support a living wage in Morocco, Thailand, and the Philippines by signing Fairfood‘s Valentine’s Day card to food workers. These three countries have some of the lowest wages, highest worker turnover, and least ability to organize in the global food system.

Now in its third year, the Fight for 15 has spread to several hundred U.S. cities and is demanding a minimum wage increase to US$ 15 per hour. “The Fight for $ 15 movement is growing as more Americans decide to fight for better pay and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry during a statement in December 2014.

This week, Food Tank joined the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s (PIRG) Thunderclap Campaign, asking McDonald’s to help stop the overuse of antibiotics. McDonald’s is one of the Fight for 15’s main targets, and one of the world’s largest fast food chains in the world. Pamela Clough, Campaign Organizer for U.S. PIRG, wrote this week, “Other restaurants, such as Panera, Chipotle, and Shake Shack, have made commitments to buy meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics or have gone antibiotic-free. If a company the size of McDonald’s makes this commitment, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country and could change the paradigm by making antibiotic-free meat more affordable and accessible to everyone.” Join the Thunderclap on February 14th and amplify your voice.

4. Eat out Sustainably
No matter where you live, small businesses are looking for some love on February 14th. If you’re planning a romantic dinner, look up a restaurant in your area that features local foods.

Eaters and consumers can support Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United by learning about the labor practices of their favorite restaurants. ROC published a National Diner’s Guide for consumers to get information on the wages, benefits, and promotion packages of places where they dine.

One of ROC’s tips is to leave behind a note, as simple as: “Noticed you still pay the subminimum wage of $ 2.13/hour to your tipped workers, as a frequent customer, I’d love to see that raised!”

GRACE Communication’s Eat Well Guide helps diners find resources on sustainable agriculture and make more sustainable food choices. Consumers can search by keyword or location, and receive the most sustainable options in their area, from local butchers to bed and breakfasts.

Before you make dinner reservations, research the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Guide. Diners can search by location online, or look in the window of the restaurant, to see if the restaurant has a ‘Sustainability Champion’ badge. Restaurants are rated on 14 key focus areas, from treating workers fairly to waste management.

5. Cook at Home
Another option is to skip the restaurant and stay in. A 2012 survey by the Hartman Group showed nearly half of adults’ meals are eaten in front of the computer, in the car, or on the go. Valentine’s Day is a time for conviviality and to spend time with loved ones. According to a report written by founder of the International Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, the best expression of conviviality is a conscious rapport between consumers and producers–no longer passive but aware, responsible co-producers.

Sustainability doesn’t end with your last bite. “Landfills are the second largest human-related source of methane. Food is the second largest component of landfills. In a sense, we’re aiding global warming when we throw food in the garbage,” explains Jonathan Bloom, food waste expert and author. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, planning menus in advance can limit waste. Love Food Hate Waste provides recipes to creatively use leftovers. Using leftovers in another recipe following dinner makes meals easy.

6. Take Action
Consumers vote with their purchases and can make their voices even louder by signing on to these worthy causes:

Stand Up for Food That Is Responsibly Grown and Farmworker Assured: Pledge to support safe food and safe workplaces by buying Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certified produce from farms that comply with the EFI Standards, which include improved working conditions, pesticide management, and food safety.

Stand Up for a Food System That Is Fair and Just: Pledge to support The Milan Protocol, an international agreement that will connect citizens and policy makers to address the issue of food sustainability with a triple objective: to promote healthy lifestyles and fight obesity, to promote sustainable agriculture, and to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2020.

Take the Sustainable Seafood Pledge: Learn about sustainable seafood, and make choices that protect workers and the environment.

Take a look at TakePart’s Tastemakers, a list of 100 food-focused businesses dedicated to local, sustainable, organic, humane and unprocessed foods.


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lags behind other cocoa companies in taking action against child labor. capability, or much interest in West Africa or the Ivory Coast or Ghana,"

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