Utah lawmakers debate raising restaurant servers’ hourly pay to minimum wage

Posted at 3:37 PM, Feb 19, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers debated a bill that would raise restaurant server’s hourly pay to minimum wage, and Thursday the measure was defeated in committee. Still, the representative behind the bill said he plans to modify the language and bring the issue back during the next legislative session.

One Utah lawmaker said the state can’t afford to leave server’s pay where it is, but opponents of the measure argue that an increase could put restaurants out of business.

There are an estimated 20,000 workers who rely on tips, and according to Rep. Justin Miller, D-District 40, nearly half of those workers are living in poverty. He said that’s part of the reason behind his proposed legislation.

“When you have nearly half of an industry receiving some type of public assistance, so essentially the state ends up subsidizing the restaurant industry, that’s the time for state to get involved,” he said.

Miller is calling to raise server’s pay from $2.13 an hour to $7.25, which is minimum wage. He said the move would lower poverty rates in the state.

“That type of consistency allows families a plan,” he said.

Heather Apo is a restaurant server, and she spoke about the inconsistency servers face.

“Although I do make a good amount of money a night, there are nights where I don't--so the average comes out to about minimum wage to $10.25 per week,” she said.

Miller said other states have passed similar legislation.

“If you look at states that do have the higher minimum wage, of $7.25 for tipped employees, it is not hurting the industry," he said. "In fact, it’s flourishing in some cities, whether it be Seattle or San Francisco."

But opponents worry that restaurants could suffer, and customers may not tip as much knowing servers are making minimum wage.

“It would have been a real negative, that large of an increase,” said Melba Sine, President of the Utah Restaurant Association.

Sine said tipped workers are already making minimum wage.

“There's no one who makes less than $7.25 an hour,” she said. “We do have local statistics from the Department of Workforce Services, and there are other statistics which show tipped employees make well above the minimum wage.”

The bill failed in committee on an 8-4 vote, but Rep. Miller said he isn’t giving up on the effort. He plans to tweak the bill and bring it back next session.