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The Argument

The Argument: Should Massachusetts eliminate the subminimum wage for restaurant workers?

Read two views and vote in our online poll below.


John Tompkins

Member of Boston area chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United; works at restaurant in Sandwich; New Bedford resident

John Tompkins

I am 62 years old. Since 1976, I have been working in restaurants. At 14, I got my first job as a dishwasher. I was beyond proud when I got $37 in my pocket, after working long hours for a week. I thought I was rich!

Fast forward 46 years, and I am now a kitchen manager at an Italian restaurant on Route 130 in Sandwich. But for many restaurant workers, wages have not significantly changed in more than three decades. Tipped workers in Massachusetts are still paid $6.15 per hour; and worse, $2.13 per hour in 16 states.


That’s why it is important for Massachusetts to eliminate the subminimum wage — the lower minimum wage for tipped workers. Every worker — most particularly servers and other front-of-the-house workers — needs to be paid at least the full minimum wage for every hour of work, plus tips on top. Period. Tips are not guaranteed, but your electric bill, car insurance, and rent are!

Over the years, I have seen and been through a lot. I’m the youngest in my family, and my parents worked really hard — especially my father who was often assigned to the graveyard shift — just to make ends meet for their six boys. So I know how every penny earned could go a long way for hard-working families. I’m not currently a tipped worker, but having been one in the past, I have experienced firsthand the struggle of relying on tips to survive.

But there are restaurants that only want to fill their own pockets. And if you don’t work for large restaurants, it also is unlikely that you would receive paid leave and health insurance benefits. This is a race and gender equality issue, as the majority of restaurant workers — in my experience — are people of color, immigrants, and women. This is also an economic issue, because restaurant jobs in general are very low-paying compared with those in other industries.


In order for us to make the restaurant industry thrive — and to see more people who would like to work in restaurants again — things definitely need to change: Eliminate the subminimum wage now. We will be able to lift workers out of poverty, help businesses prosper, mitigate cases of wage theft and harassment, and grow the economy.


Jessica Muradian

Director of Government Affairs, Massachusetts Restaurant Association; MetroWest resident

Jessica Muradian

All workers should earn minimum wage, and they do. The highest-paid employee in any restaurant is the tipped employee, frequently averaging $20, $30, and sometimes even $50 per hour.

If you are like any of the thousands of restaurant guests that dine in one of Massachusetts’ full-service restaurants each year, you are adding a gratuity of 18-30 percent when the final bill comes. This is not a discussion about the minimum wage, but rather about a compensation model.

The beauty of the tip credit — in which tips are counted toward a portion of their full $14.25-per-hour minimum wage — is that the server is guaranteed to make minimum wage. This is precisely why many people choose employment as a server or bartender. Federal and state law require employers to make up the difference for any hours worked where the employee’s earnings — including tips — fall below minimum wage. While those circumstances are rare, servers have peace of mind knowing they are leaving work with a minimum hourly wage.


The tip credit allows restaurants to staff multiple employees in a busy dining room. A restaurant owner can employ more than two full-time waitstaff employees for the same hourly rate as one minimum-wage employee. This is a win for tipped employees because they’re the highest compensated employees in the restaurant, a win for the guest who is getting a full-service experience, and a win for the restaurant operator who can employ as many people as possible to ensure a smooth operation.

The proposal to require employers to pay tipped workers the full minimum wage is not coming from servers, but from activists outside the restaurant industry. We’ve heard from countless servers imploring us to ensure their tips are protected.

During a time where employers continue to struggle to find employees — especially for in-person work — we shouldn’t be changing compensation models. Restaurants are battling supply chain issues and inflation, not to mention rising credit card fees. The restaurant industry is an industry of pennies, but these are dollar decisions. As a restaurant owner can only pay so much in labor costs, eliminating the tip credit would only transfer money from a truly deserving cook or dishwasher to the server or bartender who already is making the most money in the restaurant.


As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.