House rejects bill to limit tipped worker wages

Thursday, April 24, 2008 | 3:55 p.m. CDT; updated 7:22 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The House rejected legislation today that would have lowered the base wages for waitresses, valets and other tipped employees to the amount they had received before a voter-approved increase in Missouri's minimum wage.

Voters in 2006 overwhelmingly approved an initiative that increased the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour, with an annual increase to coincide with inflation. This year, the state's wage floor is set at $6.65.

For tipped employees, their base pay jumped from the federal floor of $2.13 an hour to $3.325 an hour, half the state's full minimum wage. Their tips must push their overall salary to the minimum wage.

Some lawmakers had sought to roll back that increase for tipped workers and succeeded in winning initial approval for such a provision earlier this week. But the bill containing that measure was defeated 82-68.

Critics said it would be unfair to restaurant employees to lower their wages and disrespectful to the voters who passed the 2006 ballot measure. Even with the higher minimum wage, it's often difficult for tipped employees to support themselves and their families, opponents said.

"Let's do the right thing: Let's vote this bill down and let people keep their money," said Rep. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis. She added: "Let's let the will of the people rule in this building for once."

Advocates of lowering the base pay for tipped workers had argued that restaurants are having trouble staying in business and are hiring fewer employees because they have to pay servers more.

The rejected legislation also included a provision attempting to clarify how the state's minimum wage law affects fire and police departments.

The 2006 law was challenged by local governments that were concerned they could no longer apply a federal standard letting police work 171 hours and firefighters up to 212 hours in a 28-day work period without getting overtime.

A state circuit judge ruled that the law increasing the minimum wage cannot apply to public employees. But some lawmakers had sought to place a specific exemption into state law.

Organizers behind the 2006 minimum wage initiative have said the judge's decision already exempts firefighters and police from the law's provisions, negating the need for clarifying legislation.

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