Seattle restaurateur David Meinert is behind a campaign to convince restaurant workers that "tips will probably go away" if the city passes a base wage of $15 an hour for all employees, according to a letter sent by Meinert to fellow business owners and leaked to The Stranger. Meinert's letter urges his colleagues to distribute the memo to staff, warning employees that overall wages will drop and encouraging them to write letters—based on a sample letter from Meinert—to be published The Stranger and Seattle Times unless a proposed $15 law factors tips into the total wage.
Meinert—co-owner of Lost Lake Cafe, 5 Point Cafe, Big Mario's Pizza, the Comet Tavern, and other businesses catering to Seattle's hipster set—argues for a policy that would count an employee's tips as part of their total $15-an-hour wage (in contrast to workers' group 15 Now that opposes the proposal). If implemented, business owners like Meinert could continue paying the current $9.32 minimum wage to many tipped employees, by allowing $5.32 in tips per hour to make up the difference to reach total compensation of $15 an hour.
This is also the position of major corporate lobbies. As I reported yesterday, a new group led by large companies and business associations called OneSeattle will advocate for the same policy by involving sympathy-garnering small business owners, according to a en e-mail leaked to The Stranger by someone who attended the group's meeting. The e-mail also outlined plans for a march by waitstaff in favor of the tip deduction based on the claim that, otherwise, customers would stop tipping and overall wages will drop. (He cites no evidence to support this claim and I couldn't find any either.)
A source, who asked to remain anonymous, forwarded this e-mail that they said came from Meinert:
Hey all - Sawant and $15Now are on the attack to keep tips out of total compensation in the minimum wage fight. We need servers to come out now and support tipping. Can you collect emails I can take to the Mayor and his task force, and possibly publish in the Times or Stranger? Need them asap.
Let your servers know that if tips aren't counted as part of the minimum wage, tips will probably go away, and a service charge will be implemented which would have sales tax taken out and would have to be used to pay for the wage increases. It's most likely that no one would ever make over $20-$25 per hour, if even that. Here's the basics when asking people to send emails to me
I am a server or bartender and make a good income from working a tipped job
raising my minimum wage to $15 per hour in a way that results in losing my tipped income would be devastating as I would make far less money
if we raise the minimum wage to $15, tips have to be counted as part of the wage.
contrary to what some council members are saying, I like my job, and making tips is not keeping me in poverty, in fact just the opposite.
tell their personal story
I suggest passing this on to staff. We will send these to city council and the mayor. If anyone wants it to remain private or anonymous they can let me know and it will.
I sent Meinert an e-mail asking if he had distributed the message to his staff. He replied with a simple, "No." I followed up: Had he send this e-mail to anyone else? Yes, he confirmed. Here's Meinert's reply:
It looks like one of the emails I exchanged with a group of small business owners discussing how we address the concerns of our servers who are asking about total compensation and tipping. As far as I know this didn’t go out to staff. However, there are similar emails going around from owners, managers and staffs of various businesses discussing this issue.
Many servers have of course read the debate going on about total comp and are concerned, especially when they read $15Now folks encouraging the end to tipping, and have had many questions. Owners have responded with with general email replies, and servers have responded by holding several meetings trying to figure out what is going on. I have not been involved in those meetings. Though I have encouraged some of my servers to write to council and the mayor if they are concerned, and to get involved in the debate.
I would expect you’ll start seeing more servers getting involved in this discussion, as many are concerned about the outcomes.
Indeed, it seems to be working: A guest piece in this week's paper by a server claims "most servers, bartenders, busers, and even kitchen staff in Seattle will take a large cut to their income" if we don't approve the tip deduction law backed by Meinert.
Again, there is no evidence—that I could find—to support this speculation.