DFLer explains support for bill that would lower minimum wage for tipped workers

A bipartisan bill that would lower the minimum minimum wage to $8 for Minnesota workers who make more than $12 hourly including tips was discussed on the House floor on Monday. About halfway through amendments at 9:15 p.m., the bill will likely to be debated into the night.

With Republicans now in the majority in the House, the legislation, which is authored by three Democrats and four Republicans, stands a good chance of winning approval in that chamber. Less clear are the proposal's prospects in the DFL-controlled Senate, though one of the bill's coauthors in that chamber, Sen. Terri Bonoff (D-Minnetonka), is a Democrat.

Backstory -- Bill would lower minimum wage for tipped employees

Though some Democrats, such as Rep. Ryan Winker (D-Golden Valley), portray the bill as anti-worker -- in a statement released today, Winkler says, "Passing bills to freeze the wages of waitresses and waiters will not make our economy stronger... Our focus should be improving opportunity for everybody -- not just an elite few" -- Bonoff tells Fox 9 her concern is about making sure fledgling businesses can keep their doors open.

"I think everybody wants to make sure all employees have fair wages," she says. "What we hear on the tip issue is that we want to make sure that the restaurants that are still full-service can afford to keep their staff... [those restaurants] have come to us and said, 'This would really help. We want our servers to make good money too.'"

Related -- DFL Rep. Winkler blasts proposal to lower minimum wage for tipped workers

Bonoff points out that $8 an hour is still more than the minimum wage servers earned before an increase was signed into law last year.

"In some states that do a tip credit, they take [servers' wages] way down," she says. "This bill does not do that. This is a two-tier wage that protects servers to make sure they don't go below [$8 per hour]."

Bonoff says she's heard from restaurateurs who say the very survival of their business depends on a tip exception. (Winkler and others, however, point out that the employment numbers don't support that position, as November 2014's job gains in the restaurant and hotel sector were the largest monthly increase on record.)

Referring to restaurateurs, Bonoff says, "If they in fact have to raise all of their servers' wages to this extent, they are concerned about their ability to stay in business and keep the same number of employees."

"I have been willing to be their voice in this matter, and to making sure people don't lose their jobs," she continues. "You watch what happened at Target recently and you can't help but be greatly concerned about the health and well-being of our workforce."

Bonoff voted for the minimum wage increase last year, but says "the inflationary increase is something I was concerned about." She's supported tip exception proposals in the past.

"I've always been for the two-tier [minimum wage]," she says. "I think it's an innovative approach to make sure we don't underpay servers, to make sure we respect what they provide while protecting restaurants."