Trump tries to rob tipped workers – again
Trump continues to give bosses the right to grab the tips of their workers. | Ted S. Warren/AP

WASHINGTON—Donald Trump seems to have a particular hatred for poor workers, especially if they’re women, people of color, or both. He wants to make them poorer than they already are.

Last month, the GOP President and his Labor Department went after H2-A visa holders, most of whom are migrants from Latin America who come to the U.S. to pick the produce and harvest the crops that fill our dining tables. Most are people of color and many are women.

This month, Trump decided to pick on tipped workers, again. That’s even though Congress – then under GOP control – stopped him once already.

The only difference? This time it would be less of a highway robbery than last time.

Early in his administration, Trump proposed letting bosses grab all they want from a worker’s tips, even though the minimum wage for tipped workers, $2.13 an hour, hasn’t risen for more than 25 years. The National Restaurant Association lobbied hard for the tip grab.

Bosses are supposed to make up the difference between the $2.13 and a state’s or city’s minimum wage. In practice, many don’t. DOL wanted to let them grab the tips instead, or force workers to put all the money into one pool, which the bosses, too, draw from.

The union-backed and unionized Restaurant Opportunities Center led a successful nationwide campaign against that scheme and flooded Trump’s Labor Department and its Wage and Hour Division with hundreds of thousands of comments in opposition.

ROC even staged a demonstration at DOL headquarters featuring the hanging of a giant bedsheet banner over the building’s front façade, saying “Trump, don’t steal our tips.”

So on Oct. 7, Trump’s Labor Department came back with a modified tip plan which would let bosses steal only some, not all, of the workers’ tips. Its plan has two key features:

  • “Remove regulatory…restrictions on an employer’s use of tips when the employer does not take a tip credit. This would allow employers that do not take a Fair Labor Standards Act tip credit to include a broader group of workers, such as cooks or dishwashers, in a mandatory tip pool.”
  • “Amend the regulations” by “explaining an employer may take a tip credit for any amount of time an employee in a tipped occupation performs related non-tipped duties contemporaneously.”

If the worker spends less than 20% of her time on such tasks – such as a restaurant server folding napkins and setting out silver – the server can be paid at the $2.13 rate for that time, too. If she spends more than 20%, she must get the full minimum wage all the time.

“Employers that had been paying the full minimum wage to tipped employees performing related, non-tipped duties could potentially pay the lower direct cash wage for this time and could pass these reduced labor cost savings on to consumers,” Trump’s DOL said.

In a bow to what Congress ordered when it clobbered Trump’s then-Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, for the original tip-stealing scheme, the new proposed Trump tip rule “explicitly prohibit(s) employers, managers, and supervisors from keeping tips received by employees.”

But then DOL adds if the boss breaks the law and keeps the workers’ tips anyway, the employer “would face new civil money penalties, currently not to exceed $1,100.” It didn’t say whether the fine would be $1,100 per time the boss is caught, regardless of how many workers get stiffed. DOL will fine the bosses, though, “only when violations are repeated or willful.”

ROC had no immediate comment on DOL’s latest tipped wage scheme. The National Employment Law Project did: “We are extremely disappointed, though not surprised, that DOL is again doing the bidding of corporate America rather than the workers it is supposed to protect.” DOL will take comments on its latest tips scheme for 60 days. Expect another flood.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.