Restaurant workers in St. Paul have been fighting to have a voice in the city’s minimum wage debate to no avail according to Jennifer Schellenberg, president of Restaurant Workers of America. Determined to be heard while also calling attention to Mayor Melvin Carter’s inclusivity shortcomings along the way, members of St. Paul’s restaurant community have organized what they’re calling a rally to save their industry slated to take place on Monday, September 17.
At 11 a.m., workers, stakeholders, and supporters will meet at the Eagle Street Grille at 174 7th Street W. to kick off a noon march to City Hall. “St. Paul’s process in the minimum wage conversation has excluded the restaurant community and disadvantaged us at every turn,” says a media advisory released by Schellenberg.
In 2012 and 2013, restaurant workers walked off of their jobs in New York and called on national chains to pay their workers $15 an hour and the national movement began. As the National Employment Law Project states, their message was clear: Not only is it impossible to survive on meager wages, but women and people of color hold a disproportionate percentage of jobs that pay less than $15 an hour.
First sweeping through cities like San Francisco and Seattle, the movement made its way to Minneapolis last year thanks to groups like 15 Now Minnesota and coalesced with a $15 minimum wage increase last summer with no special provisions for tipped workers, Eater reported.
Looking to reach a different conclusion, a central demand of the St. Paul restaurant workers behind the rally is the inclusion of a tip credit in the city’s minimum wage ordinance.
A tip credit is a structure that allows businesses to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage as long as tips bring their collective earnings to the minimum wage level. “We want this tip credit because however you do the math, when the wage goes to $15 an hour, our reliable tipped jobs and incomes are in jeopardy. We were promised a robust debate on this topic; what we got instead was a broken promise,” Schellenberg wrote in a letter to the editor in the Pioneer Press.
As the months-long debates about the details of a proposed minimum wage ordinance swirled, Mayor Carter campaigned against a tip credit and has since been uninterested in the perspectives of restaurant workers since taking office, Schellenberg alleges. He did, however, manage to sing a song about it in May. “Public input sessions have been scheduled at times that are inaccessible to the workers in our community, and business owners have not been contacted or informed of any of these input sessions, nor have they been given safe spaces to express concern without retaliation.”
“We want a minimum wage that works for everyone,” Schellenberg concludes.
Supporters who want to join the march can visit the Restaurant Workers of America’s Facebook page.