For decades lawmakers have tried to push forward bills that would raise the tipped minimum wage in the Green Mountain State, but none have made it passed the finish line.
One new member of the state senate is trying to change that trend.
“Stories I’ve heard from friends is you know, lording that over them…using that to financially make someone uncomfortable in a really degrading way,” said State Senator-Elect Rebecca White.
White, who will be representing Windsor County, is Vermont’s youngest female lawmaker. She is leading the charge on a bill that would raise the state’s tipped minimum wage.
The 28-year-old thinks the possible pay raise will help with pay inequities in the service industry, and aid Vermont’s ailing workforce.
“Less job turnover, people stay for longer…and morale is better,” White said.
She stressed that many servers still make less than the standard minimum wage, and the Democrat said the bill could pay dividends for businesses, too.
“Places where it’s not a competition for tips, and it’s a team-based environment, you end up having better service,” she said.
Vermont’s tipped minimum wage is $6.28 per hour — just half of the standard minimum wage. Both figures are set to increase slightly in January, but white’s bill would lift both amounts well above $12 – something several southern states have already done.
One business owner says the matter isn’t cut and dry.
“People that are most vehemently opposed to it are the servers,” said Tim Halverson, the owner of Halverson’s Upstreet Café.
Halverson also owns E.B. Strong’s Steakhouse on Church Street in Burlington. He doesn’t think the raised wages wouldn’t affect his business financially, but said the possible legislation might take money out of servers’ pockets.
“One thing we want to make sure they don’t do is have a perception among the public that they’re being paid a livable wage,” he said. “That hasn’t been the tradition in the states.”
He worries customers wouldn’t tip as much if they know the wages of tipped workers have gone up. White dismisses that scenario.
“If they think that paying their individual worker minimum wage would have an implication for the tips that the person would bring in, then they need to have a conversation about their prices,” she said.
White added that the pay raise is not meant to alienate businesses, and that she’s looking forward to hearing from them come New Year’s.
“We want you to be able to skill build and stay in that job and look at it as a career,” White said.
Governor Phil Scott says it’s too early for him to take a stance on the proposal and noted that he looks forward to collaborating with lawmakers on it.