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Tipped workers want a wage increase, but restaurants say it'll hurt

Ryan Delaney
Patrick McCann, owner of Piggy Pat's BBQ in New Hartford, says wage increases for servers will hurt his business.

Most New Yorkers earning the minimum wage are seeing their pay increase slightly, but that doesn't go for those in the service industry who receive tips.

The state's minimum wage will be $9 an hour at the end of next year. It will stay flat for servers and other tipped workers at $5 an hour, plus those tips.

Now the state labor department is considering raising the tipped minimum wage, but restaurant owners are worried it will have a negative ripple effect.

"It’s really tough in this day in age to actually be making $5 an hour, depending on someone’s generosity, or the fluctuations of their generosity," said Rosemary Rivera, a one time waitress who is now a labor rights activist.

A wage board convened by the labor department held a public hearing in Syracuse Friday. They heard from workers and restaurant owners who warned them of the move's "unintended consequences," as Utica-area restaurant owner Richard Zdyb put it.

"It’s the cooks that are taking the hit because we’ve only got so much money and it’s a sense of balance," he said.

Wait staff and bellhops are given $5 per hour, under the legal obligation that employers make up the difference if a worker's tips don't bring the average up to the state minimum, which is currently $8 an hour.

"I don't even understand why we're here because these people are covered," said Patrick McCann, owner of Piggy Pat's BBQ in New Hartford.

McCann said by paying servers more, there will be less money for the rest of his staff, and that will result in layoffs or automation.

But activists say the wages most tipped workers take home are not enough to live on. And they say some employees are scared to speak up when bosses don't make up the wage difference out of fear of losing their job.

The wage board will hold three more public hearings in the state over the next few weeks.