July 25, 2024

Saluti Law Medi

Rule it with System

Court OKs tipped minimum wage question for November ballot

Court OKs tipped minimum wage question for November ballot

A Thursday court ruling clears the way for Massachusetts voters to decide this fall whether to overhaul how tipped workers across the state get paid.

Rejecting a challenge backed by the restaurant industry, the Supreme Judicial Court found that a proposed ballot question eliminating the lower minimum wage for tipped workers was properly drafted.

The proposal would also allow businesses to require their employees — like waitstaff, service employees and bartenders — to “participate in a tip pool,” where tips are combined and shared among staff, including those who do not serve guests.

The challenge argued that by combining the tip pooling language with the higher wage floor, the question would present voters with two unrelated policy topics.

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the decision that the court had “no difficulty concluding” that the pieces were sufficiently related.

“The first provision ensures that employers pay all their employees the minimum wage without drawing on customer tips to do so, while the second provision changes the way tips are distributed in light of the fact that tipped and nontipped employees would now be paid the same minimum wage,” Kafker wrote.

The ballot question would bring the pay floor for tipped workers up to meet the full $15 minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2029. If it passes, customers would still be able to tip, but instead of making up part of a worker’s base pay, those tips would come on top of the $15 wage.

Massachusetts law allows businesses to pay tipped workers a lower hourly minimum wage of $6.75, but requires the employer to make up the difference if that wage plus tips do not add up to at least $15 an hour. Ballot question supporters say that law isn’t always followed and workers can be left in the dark about whether they’re being paid appropriately.

The question is backed by the national organization One Fair Wage, which is pursuing similar legislation and ballot measures in 25 states.

One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman said the group is “thrilled” with the decision and “glad that the court rejected a pretty offensive argument by the restaurant association that voters in Massachusetts would be too dumb to understand what the initiative was saying.”

Ballot campaigns have until July 3 to submit a final round of voter signatures to secure a spot on the Nov. 5 ballot. Jayaraman said the tipped worker wages campaign is “pretty much done” with signature-gathering and “feel really strongly that we’re going to win.”

“We think Massachusetts voters are overwhelmingly in support of workers having a wage, a stable wage with tips on top, particularly in this moment of extreme affordability crisis when Massachusetts has been ranked the second most expensive state to live in,” she told GBH News.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Tips, the campaign opposing the question, is “fully running and ready to go defeat it in November,” committee spokesperson Chris Keohan said in an interview. He said the committee has started reserving TV time for ads and has meetings scheduled across the state.

Steve Clark, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, filed the court challenge alongside two restaurant owners and two servers.

“Regardless of today’s decision, tipped employees continue to be overwhelmingly opposed to this ballot question brought from activists in California,” Clark said in a statement. “Servers and bartenders from across Massachusetts have been reaching out to express fear that this question will take money out of their pockets.”