When I offered last week my “Five Proposals for Making a ‘Tip Credit’ Less Worse,” I got exactly the sort of response from the business community that I expected: crickets. The restaurant industry really isn’t interested in discussing the pros and cons of the traditional tip credit; they just want it, period. So there wasn’t much risk in proposing compromises that the other side would refuse to consider.
Which is why I have one more tip credit compromise to propose—one which borrows from the arguments made in support of the bullshit “total compensation” proposal—that offers cost savings to employers while removing their incentive to push workers to part-time employment. For want of a better term I dub it: a “Tip Adjusted Benefit Deduction (or TAB Deduction).”
A TAB Deduction is a variation on the traditional tip credit that further limits the credit to an amount not to exceed the cost of providing certain defined benefits. A TAB Deduction would assure that all Seattle workers take home a minimum of $15 an hour in cash compensation, while incentivizing employers to shift involuntary part-time tipped workers to full-time jobs. A TAB Deduction would also be conditional on meeting strict business and accounting practices intended to impede wage and tip theft, while facilitating the investigation and prosecution of claims thereof.
How does the TAB Deduction work?
A qualified employer would be permitted to deduct from its minimum wage obligation an amount equal to the smaller of A) the cost of providing permissible benefits, B) the amount of tips actually received by the employee, or C) the difference between Seattle’s minimum wage and the effective minimum wage for tipped employees under city, state, and federal law.
For example, assume the minimum wage for tipped employees is WA state’s current minimum wage of $9.32/hr, while Seattle’s minimum wage is $15/hr—that makes the maximum TAB Deduction $5.68/hr. Now assume that an employee earns $4/hr in tips and $3/hr in benefits. The employer may deduct the smaller of the three figures—$3/hr—from its minimum wage obligation, with the employee ultimately receiving $12/hr in wages plus $4/hr in tips for a total of $16/hr plus benefits.
Only those benefits defined in ordinance, and in maximum amounts approved by regulators, may be applied to the TAB Deduction. Further, the TAB Deduction would only be made available to employers who follow strict business and accounting practices.
How does a TAB Deduction benefit workers?
While it would guarantee all workers a minimum cash compensation of $15/hr, a TAB Deduction would also modestly reduce take-home pay below what a straight up $15/hr minimum wage might otherwise provide to tipped employees who receive benefits. But the TAB Deduction does broadly benefit labor in two distinct ways:
First, a TAB Deduction removes from employers existing economic incentives to eliminate benefits, or to force workers into part-time work in an effort to cut costs by denying them benefits. In any workplace where average tips routinely exceed the cost of benefits, the labor-cost differential between part-time and full-time work is all but eliminated.
Second, the TAB Deduction addresses our epidemic of wage and tip theft by forcing employers to adhere to strict business and accounting practices (defined in ordinance and approved by regulators) in order to qualify. The TAB Deduction thus serves as a carrot for enticing employers into imposing stricter business practices upon themselves.
How does a TAB Deduction benefit employers?
It saves them money, duh, by permitting qualified employers to deduct the cost of providing benefits from their minimum wage obligation, up to the maximum allowable tip credit.
Again, my preference would be for a straight-up $15 minimum wage, no tip credit (and certainly no “total compensation,” a proposal that only achieves $15 by totally redefining the meaning of the word “wage”). But if we’re going to talk about compromise, the least we can do is talk about these compromises creatively.
There’s more at stake here than simply the wages of Seattle workers. If we pass a $15 minimum wage, the rest of the state and the nation will look to us as an example. So in a nation where a tip “credit” is already deducted from the incomes of most tipped employees, anything we do to set a precedent for a better tip credit could end up improving the lives of millions of minimum wage workers. Likewise, anything we do to undermine Washington’s position as one of only seven states without a tip credit (or even worse, to set precedent for “total compensation”) could have a dramatically negative impact far outside Seattle’s borders.
That said, I don’t believe that many on the pro-business side of the table are negotiating in good faith, and I don’t believe that they are truly interested in debating compromise. But they are welcome to prove me wrong.