Dani Ritchie: Raise the Wage Act will hurt tipped workers | TribLIVE.com
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Dani Ritchie: Raise the Wage Act will hurt tipped workers

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Photo courtesy Dani Ritchie
Dani Ritchie works as a bartender.

I’m worried that some Pennsylvania representatives want to reduce my ability to earn a living.

When House Democrats voted in July to pass House Resolution 582, the Raise the Wage Act — a bill that would not only raise the federal minimum wage to $15 but would also eliminate the tipping system — they voted to take away my livelihood and the livelihood of thousands of tipped workers across the country. In a personal insult, two representatives from Western Pennsylvania — Conor Lamb and Mike Doyle — voted for this harmful change.

Why is our current tipped wage system so important? Over the last 15 years, it has enabled me to achieve my dream of opening my very own business.

In college, I started working at a brewery in Slippery Rock, I could pick up extra shifts when I was low on cash, and my flexible schedule allowed me to go to school while still making an income.

When I decided to pursue beauty school, I was able to use the money I’d saved up to pay for classes. I never even imagined I could open my own business at the time but, thanks to my steady income of tips, I saved enough to open my own hair salon. I didn’t even need to get a loan.

Unfortunately, stories like mine have been drowned out by interest groups that are fighting to eliminate the tipping system in favor of a flat wage. Instead of listening to actual restaurant workers, Democrats have chosen to listen to groups like the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and their celebrity spokespeople who could not have less of a grip on how the tipping system works for servers.

ROC claims that restaurant workers make less than the minimum wage. This is not true. Current law guarantees that I earn the same minimum wage as all other employees. If what I make in tips does not bring my hourly earnings up to the minimum wage, my employer is required by law to make up the difference. I make well over the minimum wage with tips, as do most other workers in the industry.

ROC also argues that the tip credit encourages sexual harassment from customers. As a woman in the industry, I find this offensive, and my response is simple: If someone wants to harass a server, they’re going to do so regardless of whether or not a tip is expected. Sexual harassment is a terrible issue, but it is not unique to servers, and it will not be prevented by eliminating tips or changing the tipping system.

Far from feeling victimized in my line of work, being a server has empowered me. I have improved my people skills, I’ve learned how to manage fast-paced environments, and I found the confidence to go out on my own and open my own business.

It brings me great joy to provide the best service I can to my customers. Now that I have my own salon, there’s no financial need for me to keep working at the restaurant — but I still do, every Sunday. I keep coming back for the customers and the other employees who have become like a family to me.

Even though I am at the restaurant less, I still rely on tips from my salon. There’s a ton of overhead costs that come with owning your own business, and my tips help me keep the doors open.

I owe so much of my personal success to the tip credit system in my state. But if House Democrats have their way, soon myself and many servers like me could be stripped of that opportunity. All we ask is that legislators consider what actual tipped workers want before they vote away our livelihoods.

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