Today I'd like to take just a second to write about SB 2106, a bill that senate is attempting to pass here in good ol' sunny Florida. Essentially, it's a bill designed to cut my paychecks in half- and if you're a tipped employee in the service industry, yours too. Full disclosure: last year, I made just shy of $8,000. I don't live with my parents, so out of that $8,000 came my rent, electricity, water, clothes, food, gas... and not a whole heck of a lot else. I'm not sitting around crying about being impoverished; I'm a busy full-time-and-a-half student, and all that school does chew into a lot of the time I could be working. I'm not embarrassed that things are hard now so that they can be good later; that's how people get ahead. However, waiting tables is a physically and emotionally demanding profession, and the last thing anyone scraping by in the service industry needs is a PAY CUT.
As a server in an upscale restaurant in tourist town, I make a base rate of $4.65/hr, plus tips. Since taxes on my tips are automatically deducted from my paychecks, my checks are usually for between $40-$50. I get two a month: one pays my share of the electric bill, and one hacks away at the debt that I've accumulated with Discover. SB2106, if passed, will allow the change of my base rate of pay to only $2.13. In case you don't have a calculator handy, that cuts out about 15% of my already pretty meager yearly income.
Corporations like Outback are shoving this bill along so that their CEO's can buy new yachts this summer, and frankly, I'm worried. I know that money talks, and the lobbyists for the Florida Restaurants and Lodging Association are jabbering on and on with this one. They argue that it will create jobs, since restaurants will be able to hire us for a wage barely above slave labor. What they neglect to mention is that it will financially devastate the people who are already working hard just to make ends meet.
For those of you who have never worked in a restaurant before, let me tell you a dirty little secret about the low base wage: it already gets exploited. For instance, my best friend spent a stint of time at a corporate chain that rhymes with "Crapplebee's". Rather than hiring someone to "prep" in the kitchen (pre-bag portions of items, scoop sauces, etc.) at the normal minimum wage that a non-tipped kitchen employee is paid, they had a system of having the servers do it, as part of their 'running side work'. Each Wednesday, my friend was scheduled for a double shift "serving". Her section of tables and assigned side work in the morning were always the same - a small neglected spot in the corner where no one ever wanted to sit, and prep. A coincidence, I'm sure.
Conveniently for 'Crapplebee's', this freed her up to do all of the prep work each morning, at only $4.65 an hour. Whether or not she took any tables, she was still paid server pay for this time spent- and since only your weekly average between tips and base pay need to hit $7.50 to satisfy the minimum wage requirement, they were able to rotate this 'bum shift' among the staff throughout the week, where each person essentially works a kitchen prep shift for $4.65 an hour: saving the restaurant a hefty amount of cash. In 2 months, she never took a table on a Wednesday; it was invariably a prep shift. Sure, it's clearly deliberate, and ethically wrong- but it's cheap, and technically legal.
This isn't an isolated situation - more restaurants than not find ways to exploit servers into doing a lot of restaurant work for a low base rate of pay through schemes like this one. It's a relatively common move by restaurants to 'overstaff' by one or two servers, knowing full-well that they will be making little or nothing in tips that evening, in order to keep a cheap extra few pairs of hands around the restaurant to bus tables and run food. By lowering the base rate of pay further, this is only going to become a more attractive option to restaurant owners. Exploitation aside, we can't afford a pay cut. We're already one of the most underpaid and overworked workforces in the country; why is money being taken out of our pockets to keep it in the pockets of the rich?
If you find yourself concerned about those of us working hard in the service industry, please take just a moment to sign the petition against FL SB 2106 here.