St. Paul divided over how tipping should affect $15 minimum wage

St. Paul is moving closer to raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, but there are plenty of details that need to be ironed out first, including whether or not tips should count against the minimum wage. 

Two different groups made their stances known Monday. The first group representing tipped workers brought 300 petitions to City Council, saying they want their minimum wage increased to $15, but they want to keep their tips and not have them counted against them. 

Their argument is that if tips are counted against the minimum wage, it would be a wash and they would not get ahead. 

“In my work, I’m lucky enough to connect with workers across St. Paul in all kinds of restaurants every day,” restaurant worker and petition organizer Eli Edleson-Stein said. “I’ve spoken with tipped workers and small Hmong-owned restaurants on University, corporately-owned chain restaurants in Highland and high volume, full service restaurants in Lowertown. In everyone one of these restaurants, tipped workers and non-tipped workers are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of rent, transportation and childcare.” 

On Monday afternoon, bar and restaurant owners along with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the group Restaurant Workers of America argued on the other side—they would like to have tips counted against a minimum wage increase. 

They also say the process the City Council went through to start looking seriously at a minimum wage increase was flawed and there was not enough representation from bar and restaurant owners in the group that was commissioned to do the study.

“If our business model changes and our businesses no longer accept tips, that’s where we become minimum wage employees - and that’s our biggest concern,” said Jenn Schellenberg with RWA.

The city hopes to pass the minimum wage ordinance before the end of the year.