Are tipped workers being paid fairly? It was one of the questions at the heart of Thursday’s public hearing at the State Capitol.
Restaurant owners and workers held an open discussion with lawmakers and the Department of Labor to discuss several issues including if restaurant workers could sue their employers over possible lost wages.
“There are a lot of questions,” said Kurt Westby, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor. “A lot of concerns on both sides, to come up with an arrangement, moving forward that’s equitable and fair for employers and employees alike.”
Among the primary issues is what’s called the 80-20 rule. This allows restaurant owners to pay servers and bartenders less than minimum wage so long as 80 percent or more of their responsibilities are tip-related functions. The DOL says it’s the restaurants’ responsibility to monitor.
“Ultimately the manager directs the work. So, the manager should be able to determine that,” explained Westby. “The manager, under the law has an obligation to determine that.”
One former server says restaurants take advantage of the 80-20 rule. She says servers, who work below minimum wage, are often asked to do side work, including cleaning and prepping that would otherwise be handled by additional employees.
“It’s only supposed to be 20 percent of your work. But if you really look at it. If you were to time it. It would be way more than 20 percent of your work,” said Valerie Nettleton, a former restaurant server from Madison.
In Connecticut servers are paid $6.38 per hour hour and bartenders $8.23 per hour hour. Republican state Rep. David Rutigliano, who is also a restaurant owner, says including tips, Connecticut servers and bartenders make well over minimum wage.
“The servers on average in Connecticut make about $25 d an hour. Claimed wages by the way. Fully taxable,” he said.
Nettleton disagrees, calling that statement, “a joke.” What she does agree with though is that restaurant owners and servers need to find common ground.
“I think the restaurants and the servers need to come together and decide what’s fair,” said Nettleton. “What’s going on right now is absolutely not fair.”