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home : opinions : columns   May 24, 2016

6/6/2014 9:19:00 AM
Column: Nation's wage law a disgrace

Craig Sterrett
NT News Editor

The White House proposal for a nationwide minimum wage hike from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour probably isn’t going anywhere, other than providing fuel to the fire in states where candidates want to argue about minimum wage.

And, it wouldn’t be surprising if even unrealistic tax-master and former presidential adviser Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, realized that a call for a $15 minimum wage is unlikely to do the business community of his city one bit of good.

The state minimum wage topic will serve as just one more divisive issue in Illinois’ gubernatorial contest between downtrodden incumbent Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn and chamber-of-commerce/big-business favorite Bruce Rauner.

But, unless you reside in Chicago or are living downstate and trying to make ends meet on just one 27-hour, minimum-wage job, Illinois is not by any measure the worst place to be making minimum wage. (I say 27-hour, because I hear from kids trying to work their way through college that employers don’t want to give anyone full-time because they might have to offer insurance — even if the teen still is on his or her parents’ insurance.)

This also is not the worst state in the nation if you’re working for tips, whether that’s as a porter at a hotel or waiting tables.

Regardless of the minimum wage from the employer, waitresses occasionally can find places where they’re going to hit it big on tips. But stingy tippers also infest many eateries, and customers are scarce at others.

Illinois’ $4.95-per-hour minimum wage before tips for waitresses and tipped employees, and Iowa’s $4.35, certainly look a lot better than the minimums in some neighboring states. In fact, that $4.95 per hour wage likely isn’t easy for restaurant owners to pay on slow days.

Now, imagine driving through snow to a job in northern Wisconsin, nobody showing up to eat at a restaurant and getting paid just $2.33 before getting back in the car and going home in a snowstorm. Missouri waitresses fare just a bit better at $3.75. So, if a waitress showed up for work and another waitress bribed a hostess to get all the tables, it wouldn’t be quite as big of a financial hit in the show-me state as some others.

It certainly wouldn’t be as bad for waiters and waitresses in Illinois as it is in conservative-hero Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Indiana, or in Deep South right-to-work states where they observe the federal tipped-employee minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.

Again, surely there are places in Knoxville or Nashville, Tenn., Charlottesville, Va., or the Carolina coast where the tips are great and the $2.13 per hour is just gravy.

But for the most part, a nationwide $2.13-per-hour minimum wage for tipped employees is a disgrace. Thankfully, Illinois need not be ashamed of itself in that department.

Note: If you receive at least $30 per month in tips, an employer can consider you a tipped employee, and pay you as such. So, you should wonder no longer why kids want a job at a fast-food restaurant more than they want to work at an ice cream parlor with free ice cream as a benefit.

It’s too bad the president, in his State of the Union address, played politics with his aggressive $10.10 proposal instead of realizing how truly awful the federal minimum wage is for the folks who try to pay the rent and put food on the table by slinging hash, serving drinks, cutting hair, delivering pizzas and hauling luggage.

You tippers have responsibility here, too.

According to, that’s 15 percent to 20 percent for waitresses and bartenders, $1 per coat at coat check, at least a buck or up to 15 percent or more in bad weather for pizza delivery, $1 to $2 for buffets where servers check on and refill your drinks and 10 percent for takeout if you believe the server who packaged up your food is a tipped employee.

Personally, I never knew what to give for takeout. A waitress at one place said it’s better to give something than nothing. And, iTipping suggests jotting down the name of the person who takes your order; if someone else packs the order, try to split the tip between them.

So, if you’re not working for tips and can afford to be served by others: Remember to tip your server.

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