Dear Gov. Cuomo: Congratulations on your reelection. I hope you don’t mind a brief request as you prepare for your third term. Please don’t hurt our industry and community by eliminating the restaurant tip credit.
I make this request as a Harlemite and granddaughter of legendary restaurateur Sylvia Woods. My family and I are proud to keep her legacy alive by continuing to serve her authentic soul food and creating community. Thanks, in part, to your support, small minority- and women-owned businesses like the one my grandmother opened years ago have been able to find success and create jobs in this city and state.
That’s why we were proud when you hosted a re-election event at Sylvia’s earlier this year.
However, as you enter your third term, we’re still very worried because you haven’t decided the future of the restaurant tip credit. It’s not just us; because we’re an institution in Harlem, other local restaurant owners contact us all the time expressing their fears.
My family isn’t in the restaurant businesses to make a fortune, nor are friends who’ve opened places in the neighborhood. We’re in it because we love food, and we love serving our neighbors.
The overall economy may be booming, but the climate isn’t easy for businesses like ours. I have seen too many middle-class business owners forced to shut their doors due to high commercial rents, increasingly high labor costs and growing overhead. Too many servers, bartenders and kitchen staff have been left without an income after their jobs suddenly disappeared.
Without the vibrant places and people of Harlem, our neighborhood will lose its very soul.
Of course, restaurant staff deserve to be compensated fairly for the hard work and long hours they put in. My family has always strived to ensure that tipped workers at Sylvia’s earn a good wage, even before you increased the minimum tip wage, three times over the last three years. Under state law, everyone, even workers who start out with a lower tipped wage (now $8.70 per hour in the city for wait staff), has to get paid at least the legal minimum (now $15 an hour for others); if tips don’t bring you up over the threshold, your employer must.
But if the tipped wage is totally eliminated and we have to raise base wages for everyone, restaurants like mine will be forced to raise prices, reduce labor costs or both to keep up with growing expenses.
Raising prices means that our neighbors won’t be able to frequent our establishment with their families and friends the way they’ve become accustomed over the decades. Workers will get fewer hours and earn less, and some may lose their jobs. That’s just math.
We must not stand for wage theft, exploitation, harassment or business owners not paying what their workers are owed. But punishing law-abiding restaurant owners will not fix wage theft at restaurants where employers are breaking the law and workers are being exploited. Overall, a system without the tip credit will hurt the very people it purports to help.
Gov. Cuomo, there is a great deal to be done in the hospitality industry to support small-business owners and protect staff. My community was proud to stand up and vote for you in November — and again, I was honored to welcome you through our doors and to help make that happen. Now we ask that you to stand with us and save the restaurant tip credit.