Are workers in NYS who get tips being shortchanged?

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – A state wage board is taking a close look at service workers who got left behind, when state lawmakers raised New York’s minimum wage.

While the pressure is on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage even further to a “living wage” especially in the fast food industry, thousands of service workers are getting left out of the minimum wage debate altogether. They are the workers whose salaries are supplanted by tips, and state labor officials estimate there are more about 230,000 of them in New York.

Right now, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour – well below New York’s minimum of $8.00 – which goes up to $8.75 an hour at the end of the year, and to $9.00 an hour on December 31, 2015. But “tipped” workers are excluded from the minimum wage, and have not seen a change for years.

The minimum wage for service workers who receive tips, such as delivery drivers, is $5.65 an hour. For food service workers, who get tips, such as bartenders and restaurant servers, the minimum is only $5.00.

Lee Federiconi, who owns Lebros in Getzville, said minimum wages are not an issue for any of his staff because he pays well above the minimum. He said he pays more because he has to if he wants to keep his best workers. “It’s hard work, it’s very hard work. Especially last summer, a warm, hot kitchen, the chefs and cooks are yelling at them about getting this, they want that. So it is not easy.”

But Federiconi says he has a bottom line, and if the minimum wage gets too high, either he will have to cut staff, or do something he never wants to do: raise prices.

“A family of four could eat here for $25 to $30, and end up taking some food home. So for me to absorb a minimum wage hike that goes to $14 or $15 an hour, I would indeed have to raise my prices.”

The state wage board that is looking into the wage disparity between tipped workers and non-tipped workers held its first hearing Friday in Syracuse. The board has scheduled five hearings, and its hearing in Buffalo is set for November 13, at the Mahoney State Office Building on Court Street.

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