ST. PAUL, Minn. -- At the age of 15, Jill Gegen landed a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant. One night, in the middle of a fish fry, two waitresses threw off their aprons and quit. Hagen was given an immediate promotion.
"I love what I do, it was an accidental career," Gegen said.
Hagen's now a professional server at HMSHost, the world's largest provider of food services at the airport. She testified at the Capitol Friday against a bill that would not raise minimum wage for tipped workers.
On July 24, 2009 the federal government is raising minimum wage from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour for all large employers (making more than $500,000 in gross sales).
The bill would allow large employers to continue paying tipped employees $6.55 per hour if that wage plus their tips equals at least $12.00 per hour.
If a tipped employee does not make sufficient tips ($5.45 per hour) during a pay period, the bill mandates employers to raise the employees wage to $7.25 per hour.
"My sole concern today is that we not go backwards," Gegen said. "I've been at the lower end. It's not fair to separate us out and say were not worthy."
Most states have a separate minimum wage for tipped employees because when tips are added they make at least minimum wage.
For example, a tipped employee in Wisconsin makes $2.13 per hour; in North Dakota it's $4.39 and in Iowa it's $4.35, according to statistics by United States Department of Labor.
"A waiter or waitress is not responsible for mistakes the kitchen make, yet if the food is bad the server will be the loser because the tips will suffer," said Executive Director for the Jobs Now Coalition, Chris Jacobs, testifying against the bill.
A member from the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees in Minnesota, Wade Luneberg agreed with Jacobs and explained that the extra 70 cent increase will make the difference between getting a meal on the table and/or paying an utility bill.
On the other side of the table were the restaurant owners and members of the business staff.
"Most industries are taking pay cuts or having pay freezes and we're being forced to have 50-70 percent of our staff a pay increase at a time when it is absolutely impossible for us to do this," said Chairman of the Legislative Committee for "Hospitality Minnesota," Scott Winer.
Winer implied that if this bill does pass more tipped restaurant workers would lose their jobs to make way for the wage increase of their peers.
9,300 of Minnesota's 265,000 workers in the restaurant industry lost their jobs last year, according to statistics by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
The Executive Chef of "Pittsburg Blue" in Maple Grove, Miguel Urrutia, said he's already had to cut almost 30 percent of his employees because of the increase of food, energy and labor prices.
If employers are required to pay the new minimum wage "many restaurants will go out of business," Urrutia said. He wants to keep every person employed so that they all can maintain a good quality of life.
"Id rather not have that raise if it meant keeping my job," said Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park).
"I think all of us deserve a raise, everybody, but that's not happening today," Sen. Scheid said. "We're trying to save businesses so we can save jobs."
The committee decided that future discussion between the legislators, the unions and the representatives of the restaurant industry is the next step in coming to a resolution.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)