Syracuse, N.Y. — Governor Andrew Cuomo is convening Wage Tip Board Hearings in several cities throughout New York to hear testimony in favor of or against raising the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Restaurant owners, employees, and representatives from Tompkins County Worker’s Center attended a hearing recently in Syracuse. Testimony was presented to Mario Musolino and Jim Rogers of the Department of Labor, Timothy Grippen, and Heather Briccetti, Esq., of the Business Council of New York State.

Over 26 speakers, many from Ithaca and Syracuse, offered testimony to the Board.

“Every experience I’ve ever had with an industry executive has profoundly impressed upon me that they care about one thing only — and it’s not me,” said Eric Byrd, a food delivery driver from Ithaca.

Byrd works for a national franchise and says his base pay has not increased since 2005.

Timothy Hembrooke, a senior bartender in Ithaca, has been is the restaurant industry for 44 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in human services with a minor in marketing but makes $5.00/hour base pay.

“If your restaurant owns a bar there’s a 300% markup on liquor, so don’t (say) you can’t afford to lift the minimum wage for your employees,” said Hembrooke, who is also a former restaurant owner.

But restaurant owners said that the industry wouldn’t survive a significant raise to minimum wage for their employees. One restaurant owner said that “nobody wins” if wages are increased for tipped workers. He stated menu prices would have to increase and there would need to be significant payroll and staff reductions.

“All of my employees are making, I think, plenty of money.”

A survey provided by the NYS Department of Labor shows that nearly 30% of food service workers in the hospitality industry have an associate’s degree, and that a little over 12% have a bachelor’s degree.

The panel. (Sara Karlson/Ithaca Voice)

What is the minimum wage for employees that receive tips? In New York State the (minimum) tipped employee rates are as follow:

$5.00- food service workers
$5.65- service employees
$4.90-services employees in resort hotels, if they average at least $4.50/hour in tips.

On the federal level, employers are allowed to pay no less than $2.13/hour to their tipped employees. Seven states have already raised the wages for tipped workers.

The goal of the hearing was to determine if employees that receive tips should receive the State minimum wage, but wage theft was another issue presented to the Board. In July 2014 Governor Cuomo announced that $16.4 million was to be distributed to 21,000 workers in wage theft cases.

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s candidate for NY Governor was the last speaker.

What happens next? The Wage Board is conducting three more public hearings and will then provide recommendations for changes (or no changes) to Governor Cuomo, according to Timothy Grippen, Chair of the Wage Board.

Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter