Cuomo’s end of subminimum wage won’t impact all tipped workers…yet

Stephon Johnson | 1/9/2020, 12:17 p.m.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought the new year with great news for tipped workers—but not all of them. ...
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveils the first signature proposal of his 2016 agenda – his push to restore economic justice by making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought the new year with great news for tipped workers—but not all of them.

Cuomo announced on Dec. 31 that the state will not allow certain tipped workers to be paid less than the minimum wage. The governor’s list included nail salon workers, hairdressers and beauticians, car wash workers, valet parking attendants, door-persons, tow truck drivers, dog groomers and tour guides.

“In New York, we believe in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” stated Cuomo. “But after an exhaustive investigation conducted by the Department of Labor, it’s clear the tip system in many situations is needlessly complicated, allowing unscrupulous businesses to flout our nation-leading minimum wage laws and robbing workers of the paycheck they earned. That ends now.”

Base pay will be increased for car wash workers, salon workers, and workers of other “miscellaneous” industries, bringing them up to the $15 minimum in New York City. According to a report by the Department of Labor, most tipped employees are disproportionately women, minorities and immigrants.

On June 30, 2020, the difference between the minimum wage and current tip wages will be cut in half and the tip wage will be completely eliminated; workers in affected industries will make the normal minimum wage on Dec. 31, 2020. New York is one of 43 states in the country with a two-tiered minimum wage system.

“Car wash workers for years have struggled in New York to survive on sub-minimum wages. We applaud the governor for taking today’s action,” said the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “It will go a long way to remove one of the sources of wage theft that have been endemic in that industry.”

While this is good news for many of New York’s working class, a few tipped workers were left out of the discussion: restaurant and bar employees. Cuomo didn’t include waiters, bartenders and bussers.

Sekou Siby, executive director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said that the governor’s announcement is a Pyrrhic victory for some minimum wage employees.

“For years, since the establishment of ROC United, we have been fighting for restaurant workers to get the full minimum wage, plus tips, that they truly deserve,” said Siby in a statement. “While Gov. Cuomo’s new measure is an incredible victory for the many tipped workers who have tirelessly fought to be paid a full minimum wage by their employers, we are distraught that he and the State Department of Labor have once again left out nearly 300,000 restaurant workers—the largest group of tipped workers in the state.”

The importance of an increase in base minimum wage pay for all was solidified this past fall when President Donald Trump’s administration proposed regulatory changes that would revoke federal protection for tipped workers. This includes the rule that requires employers to ensure that their tipped workers spend 80 percent of their time interacting with customers in order to be paid the subminimum wage.

The One Fair Wage coalition wants Cuomo to enact a full minimum wage for tipped workers with tips on top to combat any potential Trump proposals.

“Through our One Fair Wage, we will be advancing campaigns across the country to pass legislation in cities and states that will require all employers to pay all of their employees at least the full minimum wage,” stated Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage. “We are truly excited for this opportunity and we will continue to stand together with workers and fight those who further betray hardworking families.”

In 2017, Cuomo declared that he would take steps to move New York State towards one fair wage. Seven states already have a one fair wage policy.

“More than 75 percent of New York’s tipped workers are restaurant employees. By excluding the restaurant industry—which has the highest incidences of wage theft —from getting the raise to a full minimum wage, Cuomo perpetuates their vulnerability to labor violations and harassment in the workplace,” stated Siby. “It’s delusional to claim that his move will ‘help restore fairness’ for all workers, when restaurant workers—most of whom are women, immigrants and people of color—can hardly scrape by on tips and have to rely on public assistance.”