Another day, another way economic life could get way shittier for workers. Today the Department of Labor made public a proposed rule change to its tip regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The proposed change would “rescind portions of tip regulations” on restaurants, which would have two major consequences.
First, it would do away with some laws surrounding “tip pooling,” allowing servers to collectively combine their tips and give a portion of them to non-tipped workers like kitchen staff. Cool, fine. Secondly, and more nefariously, the changes would allow employers to pocket tips from their employees as long as those employees earn minimum wage. The Washington Post reports that this is a reversal of the Obama-era policy that made tips the legal property of the workers who earned them. Under the proposed changes, even if servers hustle and take on tons of tables, their bosses can swipe those profits and leave them with the bare minimum. Not cool, not fine.
The Economic Policy Institute finds that this form of wage theft is common, costing workers $8 billion annually. That’s an average of $3,300 to a year-round worker who is likely already among some of the lowest-paid employees in the country. The EPI goes on to say that servers and bartenders are much more vulnerable to wage theft than other types of workers.
Tip pool violations have spurred lawsuits against numerous high-profile chefs and restaurateurs throughout the years, including Charlie Trotter, Mario Batali, and the owners of Zahav. If the proposed Department of Labor changes are enacted, this all-too-common practice would be completely legal.
If there’s any good news, it’s that these proposals have just been opened for public comment and will remain open for 30 days. You know what to do.