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Bill Would Ban Requirement That Servers Pool Their Tips

Restaurants have been changing the rules on how much their workers are paid.And many servers say that means they're not getting the tips that customers leave for them because they're now required to share them with other workers. State lawmakers are working on a bill banning that practice. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

It’s common practice for servers to make about four dollars an hour, because it’s assumed that the tips they earn will take them up to minimum wage or more.  But some servers who work at restaurants in Ohio say their employers have started putting tips into pools. And Democratic State Senator Nickie Antonio says they’re requiring those pools to be shared with people who clean tables, seat people and more. 

Antonio - Under this current practice, a percentage of the gross sales from the checks of the restaurant patrons is automatically taken to pay bartenders, hosts and bussers.  If a server is not given a tip for their service, they still have to pay automatically out of pocket percentage based on the gross sales of a customer’s bill to another employee, essentially paying to wait on tables some days.

Domingo Fontanez, a server at a restaurant in Northeast Ohio, says it’s not fair to him.

Fontanez – I think the tip pool is an unfair act by employers that has us paying the wages of other employees as opposed to the employers paying minimum wage.

Fontanez says he and other servers must chip in a cut from their tips to bring the pay of workers who clean tables and seat customers up to minimum wage.  Destany Carroll says she’s worked as a waitress for 18 years, and has voluntarily given tips to a bartender or someone on staff who helped her during a busy shift.  But recently, the Northeast Ohio restaurant where she waits tables decided to go to the tip pool.

Carroll - It feels like someone is taking advantage of me.  I like to work as a team and if somebody is automatically given a certain percentage of what I sell, then they have no obligation to work as a team with me.

Carroll and Fontanez say one problem with these required tip pools is that the amount to be tipped out is based on sales…and Fontanez says the problem is the tip is assumed in the calculation of what a server pays out to other employees.

Fontanez - You are donating this amount based on that sale amount based on that bill but you don’t know what you are going to get on that bill.  Yea, sure I could get a great tip, a 20% tip but I could also walk away with zero as well though.  But regardless, I have to pay that actual percentage of that check to that employee.

The servers say everyone is paid the same when the tips are split so it’s unfair because some servers are working hard, while others are hardly working - and that the system doesn’t help employees work together. But the group that lobbies for restaurants doesn’t see it that way.

Mason – We truly do believe that it attempts to solve a non-existent problem.

That’s Richard Mason with the Ohio Restaurant Association. While his group opposes Antonio’s legislation, he says it hasn’t taken a position on tip pools themselves.

Mason - The Ohio Restaurant Association believes that each restaurant owner needs to decide, within the law, what employee compensation package works best for their particular business model.

As far as the complaint that servers say they sometimes have to pay out of their own pockets when customers fail to leave appropriate tips - Mason isn’t convinced.

Mason - We are simply not aware of situations where servers are expected to put money into a tip pool when a customer leaves zero tip.

Antonio’s legislation would not ban tip pools.  However, it would say servers would not be required to participate in the tip pool.  The bill is in its beginning stages and Antonio is a Democrat….in a legislature that is dominated by Republicans.

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