Survey of tipped workers finds smaller tips, more harassment

By: - September 21, 2021 6:09 am

“All these burdens fall particularly hard on tipped workers, who more often than not are on the frontlines of enforcing health and safety as the general public returns to their normal outings in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, entertainment centers, and bars.” (Photo: Ronda Churchill)

Workers who rely on tips are experiencing increased rates of wage theft and continued hostile work environments during the pandemic, a newly released national survey suggests.

Nevada’s tipped workers are seen as more fairly compensated than many across the country. Still, advocates say the survey results provide some insight into the reluctance many workers have about reentering or staying in tipped environments like the restaurant industry. And they offer additional context about the national push for wage reform.

One Fair Wage, a national advocacy group focused on ending subminimum wage and raising the federal minimum wage for all workers, found that three-quarters (75%) of tipped workers surveyed reported their tips have decreased this year. More than half (54%) reported an increase in hostility and harassment related to enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols.

Almost a third (31%) of tipped workers reported that overall unwanted sexualized comments from customers increased in 2021 compared to 2020.

These reported increases were on top of smaller tips and greater harassment reported by essential workers during the first year of the pandemic.

“Workers and employers are now having to deal with an ongoing staffing crisis in the restaurant and service sector as a whole, the COVID-19’s more contagious variants causing surges in cases and hospitalizations across the country, and the inconsistencies in safety protocols and mandate enforcement across the country,” reads the report. “All these burdens fall particularly hard on tipped workers, who more often than not are on the frontlines of enforcing health and safety as the general public returns to their normal outings in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, entertainment centers, and bars.”

Food and bar service is the largest single employment sector in Nevada, employing approximately 133,000 people as of last month, according to data from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. The industry has been rebounding since the business shutdowns in spring and summer 2020 and is up 29,000 jobs since August 2020.

Accommodations, which includes casino workers and the gambling industry, is the second largest sector and employs 120,000 people as of August 2021. It too includes many tipped workers.

Federal law allows employers to pay a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour if employees receive tips that bring them up to the minimum wage, which is federally set at $7.25. Nevada is one of a handful of states that does not allow this practice — called “tip crediting” — and instead requires employers pay tipped workers minimum wage, regardless of how much in tips they make on top of that.

Nevada’s tiered minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour if the employee is offered qualifying health benefits and $9.75 per hour if the employee is not offered qualifying health benefits. Those rates are scheduled to rise by 75 cents in July 2022.

More than one-third (35%) of tipped workers surveyed nationwide by One Fair Wage reported that their tips and additional wages from their employer did not bring them up to the minimum wage in their state. Almost half (46%) reported their employer does not properly compensate them for overtime.

In their push to end subminimum wage for tipped workers, One Fair Wage and other advocates point to states like Nevada as proof that businesses can still make a profit if they transition to paying livable wages.

An analysis published earlier this year by the Center for American Progress found that states that have eliminated tipped minimum wage entirely have done as well or better since abolishing the lower wage.

Nevada lawmakers banned the practice of tip crediting in 1971.

Advocates want to make Nevada’s standard the national norm. A provision of the Raise the Wage Act would phase out tipped minimum wage — as well as subminimum wages for youth workers and workers with disabilities. But the bill, which was reintroduced early this year, lacks the support it needs to pass Congress. Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen is a cosponsor of the Senate bill, while Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus are cosponsors of the House version.

Still, even without a subminimum wage loophole available for employers in Nevada, many advocates feel wages are too low in many tipped work environments. And other wage issues, such as employee misclassification, are believed to be widespread.

Nevada’s Office of the Labor Commissioner said it has not seen an increase in the number of complaints filed by workers during the pandemic.

One Fair Wage found that more than half (54%) of tipped workers have considered leaving their job since the pandemic began. The number one reason, cited by three-fourths of respondents: wages and tips are too low. Fifty-eight percent cited concerns about COVID-19 safety, and 41% cited concerns about hostility and harassment from customers.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.