Montgomery Co. tipped worker minimum wage plan prompts confrontation

ROCKVILLE, Md. (Oct. 17, 2023)—Supporters of a Montgomery County proposal to raise tipped workers' minimum wage clashed with opponents who came out to testify at a council hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Wearing green shirts, the Restaurant Association of Maryland and its supporters rallied outside the County Council building to oppose the legislation, when they were met by their pink-shirted opponents from One Fair Wage, a national organization committed to eliminating the subminimum wage in the country.

The two groups yelled back and forth, then an OFW supporter was pushed to the ground, and a woman in a pink shirt who said she was defending herself and others scratched the face of a green-shirted tipped worker. The OFW supporter was put in an ambulance and the RAM supporter left.

According to the Rockville City Police Department, officers responded to a call regarding an assault between two females outside the County Council building just before the meeting started. Neither woman went to the hospital or pressed charges, police said.

"It's very sad for what happened here today," said Michelle Nkoussee, a restaurant worker who opposes the minimum wage plan.

Inside, a sea of pink and green shirts filled the seats to hear the legislation, which was sponsored by Council members Will Jawando and Kristin Mink. It would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in Montgomery County over the next five years, until it reaches the county's current top minimum wage of $16.70 per hour for large employers.

Jawando said the proposal would provide a dependable, level income for tipped workers.

"If you work at a high-end restaurant, you're gonna be OK. But if you're working in a place where it's more low income or a chain, you might not get consistent tips," said Jawando. "(This legislation) will lift all boats."

Now, employees who earn more than $30 per month in tips in Montgomery County must be paid at least $4 per hour. Employers must show that the employee's wages, plus tips, add up to an hourly wage equal to the county's minimum wage for non-tipped employees.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, an advocacy group for restaurant workers and food service policy in the state, said workers will make less money with a higher minimum wage because customers will be less inclined to tip.

"We realized that servers were very concerned that this legislation would lead to higher menu prices and service charges being added to guest member checks," said RAM President Marshall Weston. "These servers and bartenders do not believe that people will be able to tip on top of a service charge, and that is what's most alarming to them."

Saru Jayaraman, president of OFW, accused RAM of misleading its supporters with claims that the increase in minimum wage would eliminate tips altogether. That's not true, she said.

"We support that (workers) get paid at least a full minimum wage directly from your employer, and then all the extra money that comes in either tips or service charges," said Mikey Knab, national director for High Road Restaurants, an organization committed to ensuring gender and race equity in the restaurant industry.

Seven states plus Chicago and the District of Columbia have already implemented legislation that increased minimum wages for tipped employees. Last week a similar proposal in Prince George's County was tabled that would have increased the county minimum wage over the course of five years and required employers to submit quarterly wage reports.

Jawando expects the legislation to go to vote early next year, and, unlike in Prince George's, he said he expects the legislation to pass.

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