Bartender recruits North Country servers, eateries to oppose tipped wage proposal

Maggie Raczynski, an Albany-area bartender and server, speaks Monday about an article that criticizes the state’s proposal to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers. (Photo provided — Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times)

CAPE VINCENT — An Albany bartender encouraged a crowd of local servers and restaurateurs to voice their opposition to a proposal to eliminate the subminimum wage and tip credit on Monday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December proposed a requirement for businesses to pay tipped workers minimum wage, currently $10.40 per hour in upstate New York, instead of the subminimum wage of $7.50 per hour. The proposal also calls for the elimination of the tip credit, now $2.90 per hour, which businesses pay workers who don’t earn that amount in gratuity.

But Maggie Raczynski, who has worked in restaurants for 15 years, said she believes the proposal, if adopted, would threaten tipped workers’ ability to earn tips, reduce their earnings, hamper their employers and possibly cost them their jobs.

The tip credit, Raczynski said, ensures that tipped workers can continue working for tips throughout their shifts. Earning minimum wage, however, would allow employers to assign them to other tasks, including ones where they wouldn’t earn gratuity.

Raczynski also argued that increasing wages would cause restaurateurs to increase prices or cut staff to save money. Higher prices, she said, could then dissuade customers from dining out as often or spur them to pay less in tips.

“How am I supposed to survive on $10.40 an hour?” she said. “If the end goal of this is to collect more tax money from people — how much are you going to collect from unemployed people who lose their businesses?”

Raczynski has spent months trying to bolster opposition to the governor’s proposal by protesting at his State of the State address, creating a Facebook group that has almost 7,000 members and speaking with businesses across the state.

Raczynski, a bartender at an Outback Steakhouse location in the Albany area, encouraged the crowd she spoke to at Ray’s Pub and Grub between Cape Vincent and Clayton to attend the state Department of Labor’s hearings for the proposal and prepare testimonies voicing their concerns.

The Labor Department will host meetings at 10 a.m. April 25 at the Dulles State Office building in Watertown and 10 a.m. April 30 at the Gateway Center at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Anyone interested in attending can register on the department’s website, labor.ny.gov.

“What you should talk about is your story,” she said to servers and restaurant owners. “This is our industry.”

Servers who shared similar concerns attended the Monday meeting and plan to take further action at subsequent state hearings.

Shayna Brown, a waitress at the Blue Heron in Chaumont, said she worries the wage hike would force local eateries to close. Brown, who has worked in restaurants for 10 years, also questioned the reasoning behind the proposal, as she earns enough money now to pay for bills, trips and college expenses.

Joedy Hill, who has worked as a server for 47 years, said she worries about servers losing their jobs because North Country restaurateurs won’t be able to afford the increase in payroll expenses.

“I work for myself, but I [waitress] on the side to make extra money because I’m a single mom with two kids,” said JoeyLynn Ramsier, a part-time server at the Savory Downtown restaurant at the Watertown Best Western. She added that if the proposal is adopted, “I won’t do it. It’s not worth the money.”

In addition to the state hearings, the Thousand Islands Supporters for Tipped Credit, a local version of Raczynski’s movement, will host another informational meeting at 7 p.m. April 16 at the Savory, 300 Washington St., Watertown.

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