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California's Servers Might Be Taking a Pay Cut

A proposed bill would freeze the minimum wage for tipped employees, even if the state minimum wage rises.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Should servers, bartenders, valets, and other tipped employees benefit from minimum wage increases? Or does that place an unfair burden on businesses where the profit margins are already sometimes exceedingly thin?

According to this SF Weekly article, a new bill sponsored by the California Restaurant Association and Orange County Assemblyman Tom Daly proposes to freeze the minimum wage at $9 per hour for all tipped workers who earn, in total, $15 per hour or more.

California treats its servers differently than most states in the Union: it is one of seven states that pays tipped employees the state minimum wage, $9 per hour, instead of the absurdly low federal minimum of $2.13 for tipped employees. The California state minimum wage is set to rise to $10 per hour next year — but that won't apply to waiters and tipped employees if Assemblyman Daly's bill passes. Tipped employees' hourly minimum would be required to remain at $9. The bill also states that if a tipped employee's wages amount to less than $15 per hour in a given month, the business would have to make up that difference.

Notably, the bill would override any state and local minimum wage laws. Oakland, for instance, passed a $12.25 per hour minimum wage last year. In San Francisco, the minimum is $11.05. Tipped workers in those cities would see their base pay reduced to $9 per hour if the bill passed.

Proponents of the bill say that it will level out the playing field between front-of-house employees like waitstaff, who earn tips, and back-of-house employees like dishwashers, who typically do not. Others are more cynical and say that this bill is simply being put forward in order to fatten restaurants' bottom lines.

Those affected by a minimum wage cap are likely to be disproportionately female. According to this White House report from last March, women comprise 72 percent of workers in tipped occupations.