Backdoor changes to minimum wage laws benefit no one

When I grew tired of being paid two bucks an hour, I moved to Oregon.

In New Mexico, where I had lived, $2.13 was the bare minimum that a server could be paid per hour. Restaurants disliked paying even this much, when their customers were paying their wages for them, and there was animosity between management and staff in every restaurant I worked in.

Here, I work with happier, well-fed servers, who are not constantly scrutinized for theft or laziness. I am no longer required to work 13-hour shifts, because I make $7.25 an hour, like everyone else.

This is because in 2002, voters approved Measure 25, which tied the minimum wage to inflation, and raises it every year.

But the Oregon Restaurant Association, a lobbying group for restaurant chains and owners that live out of state, is trying once again to beat back the will of Oregon’s voters.

In 2003, they first tried to exempt servers from this yearly raise. Wayne Scott (R-Canby) said it was necessary because "unemployment rises when the minimum wage is indexed" to inflation. Contrary to Scott’s statement, during 2003 the Oregon hospitality industry increased employment after the minimum wage had risen 40 cents that year.

This year, with House Bill 2409, the lobbying group has changed its argument to "pity the cooks."

"We’re not saying that the servers don’t deserve their tip income," Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant Association said. "The question is how do we get a fair wage to back-of-the-house employees."

If restaurants were allowed to pay servers less, Perry reasons, there would be a bonanza of money to pay the dishwashers and cooks. But there is no provision in the bill to divert this "saved" money into employees’ paychecks. If this bill passed and became law, circumventing the constitution, no restaurant would be required to pay dishwashers anything more. But restaurant owners would have a higher profit margin for themselves.

Servers earn the most money (often more than management) because they have the hardest job. They are almost always required to share their tips with other employees.

Oh, and under the new law, if a cook gets tipped out more than $30 in a month, then they will be exempt from any further wage increases, too. But Perry doesn’t want you to know about that. Instead, he issues platitudes such as, "[This] will not make servers make less money … there’s nothing that moves these people backwards."

Unless you are a minor, that is. Those trying to find employment before they turn 18 would get paid below the minimum wage for their first two months if this bill passes.

Higher wages are good for everyone. More money in my pocket means I put more money into the local economy. If the Oregon Restaurant Association really wants more money to pay their cooks, they should pass a bill to raise all prices by 5 cents and give it all to their cooks. Or they could look for a tax break and give it all to their employees, rather than to themselves.

This is another attempt of greedy businesspeople to avoid helping the economy and their communities in order to make a little extra money. They immorally hold up their employees as poster children for their attempt at more profit.

If they really want to exempt certain Oregonians from Measure 25, restaurant owners should sponsor a ballot measure to amend the constitution. They should not try to sneak behind the people of Oregon by going through the business-friendly Republican House. This measure would damage our economy in the long term, all so restaurant chains could squeeze out an extra buck right now. Illegal and immoral, HB 2409 should never pass.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]