It’s Time for New York to Follow Chicago’s Lead and Raise the Subminimum Wage for Tipped Restaurant Workers

By Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and State Senator Robert Jackson | October 11, 2023

On Friday, Chicago passed its One Fair Wage ordinance to raise the subminimum wage for tipped restaurant workers from 60% of the real minimum wage up to the full minimum wage with tips on top by 2028. The bill was passed with support from the Illinois Restaurant Association and is about to kick off a series of additional victories for One Fair Wage – in multiple Maryland counties in 2023 and an additional 10 states in 2024.

Here in New York, we’ve yet to accomplish this goal. As we gear up for the beginning of the budget season in Albany, we call on Governor Hochul and our legislative colleagues to include Assembly Bill A1710 and Senate Bill S5567 in the new budget to finally end New York’s archaic practice of allowing a specific industry to pay its workers less than the state’s minimum wage.

The National Restaurant Association was founded in 1919 with the express purpose of maintaining the subminimum wage. This legacy of slavery continues in New York, impacting 330,000 tipped workers, who are 58% women and 49% people of color. Tipped restaurant workers also have the highest percentage of single mothers of any workforce in New York. While we were able to finally pass a minimum wage increase in last year’s budget, we excluded tipped restaurant workers, the third time since 2017 that we’ve done so. It’s past-time we follow Chicago’s lead and ensure these hard working women also get the full minimum wage plus tips on top.

There are several reasons why passing One Fair Wage in 2024 is a no-brainer for New York. First and foremost, it’s good for the workers. Restaurant workers who earn the real minimum wage with tips on top experience less poverty than they do in New York. In 2015, subminimum wage workers earned 85% of the full minimum wage, but today, they earn only about 66% of the full minimum wage. This gap has put subminimum wage workers in an even more precarious economic situation. In addition, restaurant workers who make the real minimum wage with tips on top report one-half the rate of sexual harassment compared to states that pay workers a subminimum wage.

One Fair Wage is also good for the restaurant industry as a whole. The seven states that require a full minimum wage with tips on top have higher restaurant sales per capita, higher job growth in the restaurant industry, and higher tipping averages than New York. A recent report shows that California, which requires all restaurants to pay a full minimum wage with tips on top, has a higher small business restaurant growth rate than New York, and has a higher percentage of people of color and women-owned small business restaurants as well. With recent declines in restaurant staffing, many restaurant owners have started to increase wages as a way to recruit more staff. That is why over 100 restaurants signed on to a letter to the governor calling for passage of our bill to end the subminimum wage for tipped workers to create a level playing field among all restaurants as they raise wages for recruitment.

All workers deserve to be paid at least the full minimum wage with tips on top. It’s time for New York to do the right thing and pass One Fair Wage this year. If Chicago can get it done, so can we.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas is a New York State Assemblymember representing parts of Queens County, and Robert Jackson is a New York State Senator representing parts of New York and Bronx Counties.