Minimum wage threatened by house bill

The Oregon Restaurant Association has introduced two bills to the state legislature aimed at eliminating the minimum wage for workers who earn tips.

The Oregon Restaurant Association has introduced two bills into the Legislature. One, House Bill 2331, would eliminate the minimum wage law passed in 2002. The other, House Bill 2409, would allow for a tip wage in Oregon, meaning anyone earning tips would be paid less than minimum wage in their paychecks while still being taxed on their tips.

In 2002, Oregon voters passed Measure 25 to raise the minimum wage with a cost of living increase every year. The current minimum wage rose to $7.25 an hour last January, above the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour.

"With 43 other states and the federal government recognizing a tip wage, Oregon’s restaurant owners are not asking for special treatment, but rather to level the playing field and stay competitive in attracting new business and growing current establishments," said an Oregon Restaurant Association spokesperson.

The Oregon Restaurant Association is also working to establish a training wage for newly hired employees. This would reduce the hourly pay for the first few months of employment regardless of job experience. They contend that the higher minimum wage would reduce the amount of newly offered jobs.

In October 2004, Oregon Labor Trends published a study by the state Employment Department tracking job growth in all employment sectors since June 2003, after the first minimum wage increase. The study shows an increase in low-wage jobs by 3 percent, while other jobs grew by 2 percent.

"Most people don’t understand that Oregon has a good minimum wage compared to other states, but it’s always under attack and always needs defending," said Wentz. "Volunteers are handing out business cards whenever they go out to eat or grab a latte and leaving them in tip jars or bill trays," said Patty Wentz, communications director for Oregon AFL-CIO.

Wentz said the AFL-CIO is working with the Oregon Food Bank, Association of University Women, the Oregon Student Association and other groups to defend the current minimum wage for all employees.

"They are spreading the word to tipped workers about what’s happening with the attack on minimum wage."

Many argue that lowering minimum wage will force students to work additional hours while taking out more loans to break even each month.

Valerie Conarroe is a single parent and a junior in Communications at PSU. She’s been working as a server for 12 years. She moved to Portland from Utah to pursue an education while working for more money.

"In Utah, I was unable to support myself and my child at $2.13 an hour. In Oregon, I can work, go to school and earn enough money to survive. A lot of single moms do this kind of work because it’s flexible and pays enough to live. Overall, a higher minimum wage is better for Oregon because employees will spend their money and support the economy. It’s not like we’re able to save money for a rainy day. We [students] spend every penny we make," she said.

Some students are living on tips alone, despite the current minimum wage situation.

"[As a server] I was making $200 in tips a week and getting a paycheck. Sometimes, I wouldn’t get a paycheck because the tax on my tips negated the hours I spent working," said Adrienne Donovan-Boyd, PSU senior in Community Development. "The idea that [the Oregon Restaurant Association] would want to cut hourly pay and still tax tips would affect many students financially."

Joy Helton, PSU Arts and Letters graduate, now lives in Detroit, Michigan and waitresses at a bar for living expenses and to pay off her student loans.

In Detroit, the hourly minimum wage is $5.50, and less than half that amount for tipped workers.

"I make $2.65 an hour plus $50-100 a night in tips. I’ve had nights where I don’t make a lot of tips at all and I barely get a paycheck," said Helton. "Oregonians take for granted the quality of life in Portland, it’s very different living in Detroit and other parts of the country."