For several weeks now, labor activists have been outraged about a proposed Trump-administration rule that would lawfully permit employers to keep workers’ tips, should they feel so inclined. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (who, it turned out, tried bolstering support for the proposal by hiding his own agency’s analysis of it, which found that servers could get screwed out of billions of dollars) claimed that by re-legalizing tip-pooling, they would ensure fairer pay to both servers, who get tips, and kitchen staff, who don’t. But even the National Restaurant Association acknowledged that “loophole” benefits employers, and Acosta’s critics responded with a forceful, Dude, do you even follow what goes on in the restaurant industry? All of which is to say that, even mere days ago, the future didn’t look promising for America’s tip-earners.
But, plot twist: Last night, the GOP-controlled Congress stepped in and, in its final spending bill, included a provision prohibiting restaurants from stealing its workers’ gratuities. Per Politico, it was a compromise between Acosta and Democratic senator Patty Murray, but the measure is also bipartisan, and could be passed by the House as soon as today alongside the rest of the spending bill.
The bill’s text reads:
An employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.
It goes on to outline punishment for any restaurant that keeps a portion of servers’ tips. The bill stipulates that violators will have to pay back “all such tips unlawfully kept,” including “the amount of the sum of any tip credit taken,” plus “an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.”
Labor activists and servers wasted little time in celebrating. In a statement yesterday evening cheering the occasion as “a historic victory,” Saru Jayaraman, head of worker-rights group ROC United, called the legislation “a testament to the power of workers standing up together,” and thanked Congress for actually listening to their complaints.