Restaurant workers and their allies scored a historic victory winning bipartisan support from members of Congress and the administration to include a provision in the omnibus budget bill—just signed into law March 26—that codifies protections for tipped restaurant workers against employers, supervisors, and managers taking any portion of their tips. 

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, says, “This represents a historic victory for restaurant workers. The National Restaurant Association wanted to steal workers’ tips, but the workers said no—and they won. The fact that hundreds of thousands of workers stood up and said no to employers taking their tips, and that Congressional leadership listened and acted, is a testament to the power of workers standing up together.” 

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, says, “The law cannot be more clear: Tips belong to workers and no one else. This landmark victory belongs to all the restaurant servers, bartenders, car wash workers, valets, attendants, and all the other tipped workers in America who fought back when the Trump administration proposed its misguided tip-stealing rule. They wrote in, held protests, signed petitions, and spoke out. That’s what brought Labor Department officials and lawmakers to the table to hash out this historic agreement.”   

In December 2017, the Trump Department of Labor, aligning itself with the National Restaurant Association, proposed a rule allowing employers to keep their workers’ tips when they are paid as little as the minimum wage. That proposal sparked a massive public outcry, and workers and their allies around the country mobilized. Around 350,000 restaurant workers, other tipped workers, employers and consumers submitted public comments (the vast majority opposing the rule), testified on Capitol Hill, and participated in multiple actions in front of U.S. Labor Department buildings in 20 cities nationwide, including a banner drop off the front of DOL headquarters in Washington, D.C. that carried the message, “Trump, Don’t Steal Our Tips!” 

Christine Owens of NELP added, “We want to extend our deepest gratitude to members of Congress who were instrumental in this victory, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Katherine Clark (MA), whose tough questioning of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta during an appropriations hearing revealed an opening for a possible bipartisan agreement; they quickly followed up by introducing legislation. 

“And we also extend our deepest thanks to Sen. Patty Murray for skillfully negotiating this agreement, and to Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for getting it across the finish line. Thanks to their efforts, when this bill passes, we will have perfect clarity in the Fair Labor Standards Act on who owns tips, and workers will be able to claim full legal rights to their own tips.”

Trupti Patel, a ROC-DC member, says, “As a server in the District of Columbia with over 10 years of experience, I am happy that our elected representatives are paying attention to the voices of tipped professionals. This compromise will protect workers’ income and will allow for more gender and racial equity in the restaurant industry. I urge the House and Senate to pass this language.”

Saru Jayaraman of ROC United concludes, “We thank all of our allies in Congress and in the field, who stood with the courageous restaurant workers on this issue. Protecting workers’ tips from managerial tip theft would also protect a mostly-female workforce from exacerbated sexual harassment. The next step is that we need One Fair Wage—the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers so that this incredibly large workforce, the majority of whom are women, is not entirely dependent on customer tips to feed their families. When this omnibus bill passes, it will represent an enormous step toward that final victory.”

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