New York restaurant servers and other tipped workers ask state for a pay raise to minimum wage

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ALBANY, New York — Restaurant servers, busboys and other tipped workers in New York may get a raise from a little-known state board that will review whether to require their employers to pay the minimum wage.

Under current law, restaurants, hotels and other employers can pay service workers less than the minimum wage as long as their tips make up the difference. A coalition of labor unions, service workers and others is pushing for the state to eliminate the so-called tip wage and require service workers to be paid the full minimum wage of $8 before tips.

The state's wage board is expected to hear from both sides this fall before making a recommendation on whether to raise the tip wage — or eliminate it altogether. A final decision from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's labor commissioner is expected in February. The board met Monday in Albany.

"This is an opportunity to take direct action to boost the paychecks of thousands of workers," said Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.

Business groups, however, have said proposed wage increases could backfire by raising labor costs and forcing employers to cut hours or positions. Current law already ensures that tipped workers get the minimum wage if their tips fall short by forcing restaurant owners to pay the difference, noted Jay Holland, government affairs coordinator at the New York State Restaurant Association.

"If they're not doing that, then that's a wage theft issue, not a minimum wage issue," Holland said.

The state's minimum wage is set to increase to $8.75 an hour on Dec. 31 and to $9 an hour at the end of 2015. Proposals to raise the wage to $10.10 and allow local communities such as New York City to raise it even higher fell flat in the state's Legislature earlier this year, but they are expected to be revisited when lawmakers reconvene in January.

Seven states already require servers to be paid the minimum wage before tips.

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