WASHINGTON — As the nation’s largest trade group for restaurant owners on Tuesday held a virtual version of its annual gathering to lobby Congress, advocates for a $15-per-hour minimum wage took aim at the powerful restaurant chains that they say are blocking legislation on a higher wage for tipped workers.
During their own virtual event, lawmakers such as Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan and advocates for raising the minimum wage sought to contrast the National Restaurant Association’s opposition to legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage with comments from the chief financial officer of Denny’s, one of the association’s members, that gradual increases in the minimum wage haven’t been a problem.
The diner chain’s CFO, Robert Verostek, said on an earnings call first reported by The Daily Poster that the company’s California restaurants “outperformed the system” during the time frame when California was increasing its required wage, which will reach $15 by 2023.
But in a letter to congressional leaders in February, the National Restaurant Association wrote:
“We share your view that a national discussion on wage issues for working Americans is needed — but the Raise the Wage Act is the wrong bill at the wrong time for our nation’s restaurants.”
“The CFO spoke the truth to the analysts, but meanwhile was funding the National Restaurant Association’s fight against one fair wage,” said Rosanna Weaver, a program manager who tracks CEO pay for As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group.
The advocacy event, which featured restaurant workers and owners speaking about their experiences with the minimum wage, comes as Democrats in Congress are grappling with how to get a bill approving a $15-per-hour wage to the president’s desk.
President Joe Biden has said he supports such a hike, which would over time double the current $7.25 federal minimum wage. That rate was last increased in 2009.
The minimum wage is even lower for tipped workers, whose base wage before tips can be as little as $2.13 per hour. The minimum-wage bill pending in the House would gradually phase out that lower rate for tipped workers.
Seven states already require the full minimum wage, with tips in addition to that base pay: California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Montana and Alaska, said Saru Jayaraman, president of the advocacy group One Fair Wage.
Congress did not include a proposal for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the last coronavirus aid package. The Senate parliamentarian had ruled that including it in that bill would violate the rules being used to pass the bill without any Republican votes.
The minimum wage hike was still proposed in the Senate as an amendment to the stimulus bill, and eight Senate Democrats voted against it, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Ariz.).
“We are going to get it through the Senate, no matter how many thumbs up, thumbs down, curtsies, you name it. We’re gonna get it done,” Pocan told advocates Tuesday, referring to the thumbs-down gesture given by Sinema when she voted against the minimum-wage hike amendment.
Pocan was one of several members of Congress to speak at Tuesday’s event, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Reps. Andy Levin and Brenda Lawrence, both Michigan Democrats.
Lawrence described the lower minimum wage allowed for tipped workers as “an insult,” arguing that passing the minimum wage hike “will be a strong step in ensuring that every worker is treated with dignity and respect.”
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