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Guest MINDSETTER™ Joey L DeFrancesco: Senate Drops Ball on Tip Theft Bill

Friday, June 22, 2012


Our state Senate missed a big opportunity to help working Rhode Islanders last week when the Labor Committee allowed a bill to end tip-theft die even after it had overwhelmingly passed the House.

That means it's still perfectly legal in our state for employers to skim off as much of workers' gratuities as they want so long as they don't drive anyone below minimum wage. There's no federal law against the practice, and it happens a lot more than you think.

I experienced tip stealing firsthand over the three years I worked as a Room Service server at the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel. I depended on gratuities to pay my bills because I only made $5.50/hr, but I wasn't allowed to take home all the tip-money I was earning. The hotel's tipping system was a convoluted set-up of “Service Charges” and “Additional Gratuity” lines where both the company and our supervisors were dipping into my money. At the end of the day, I was taking home less than half of what customers thought they were giving me.

Existing laws aren't sufficient to stop this kind of robbery. In 2011 I filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor over the hotel's gratuity system. After a few months of investigating the DOL told me that yes, the company was stealing my tips, but because I still kept enough to make minimum wage they couldn't do anything about it.

My hotel isn't an isolated case. Speak with anyone who's been in the industry long enough and they'll have a similar story. While talking with workers about the legislation, I heard about tip-theft happening everywhere from small bistros on Thayer St. and Federal Hill to big corporate fast-food chains. Sometimes bosses steal tips through deceiving service charges, sometimes by taking a portion of credit card tips, and sometimes by bluntly demanding a cut of a worker's cash at the end of a shift.

A few states have already banned the practice, including Massachusetts, New York, and California. In those states, workers have effectively used their laws to fight back against unfair employers. In one recent high-profile case, employees at celebrity chef Mario Batali's New York restaurants won $5.25 million as backpay for years of stolen tips.

Tip theft isn't just an problem for workers—it's also a scam to consumers. When diners leave a tip, they intend their money to go to servers. If that money is redirected by disingenuous bosses or misleading service charges, the customer is being defrauded.

The tip theft bill wouldn't hurt RI businesses. It adds no taxes or fees to restaurant owners' bills. It simply ensures low-wage workers are getting the gratuities they deserve, and that customers' money is going where they intend it to go.

It's a shame the Senate didn't push this common-sense law through. Still, the legislation generated enough press that many Rhode Islanders are now aware of an injustice largely unknown beyond service workers, and that's a big victory. We'll be back with another bill next year, but for now tip theft will continue legally in Rhode Island--so be sure to ask your server where that credit card tip or service charge really ends up.

Joey L DeFrancesco is a former hotel worker and rank-and-file union organizer. Since his viral video of him quitting his hotel job, “Joey Quits,” he's pursued service worker activism through his website http://www.joeyquits.com and elsewhere. He helped to create and promote the Rhode Island tip-theft bill submitted by State Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence).


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This is unacceptable. I tip according to service. I get good service you get a good tip. I appreciate some will place their tips in a pot to share with "behind the counter workers" but the owner has no business taking any percentage of the tip.

Comment #1 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 06 22

Democrats and union bosses killed this bill.

What a bunch of hypocrites.

The people deserve their tips. They earned them. If I wanted the establishment to have my money I would pay them more.

This is theft. Plain and simple.

What a disgrace.

Comment #2 by Jeffrey deckman on 2012 06 22

I am in agreement with Jeffrey. The Democrats are hypocrites. They also voted against amendments to the budget that would have taken the legislative grant money and added it to the developmental disabilities budget. The Republicans voted for it. The Republicans also voted to pay a 20% co-pay on their health care, the democrats voted against that too.

It is clear what is going on here. ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY! Democrats caring only about themselves and not he hard working individuals who rely on tips. Democrats caring only about themselves and not caring about our developmentally disabled! The Emperor has no cloths! It is time to vote the Democrats out and RI will be saved.

Comment #3 by RI WILL BE SAVED on 2012 06 22

You crazies want to get rid of the minimum wage and force American citizens to earn Chinese slave wages.

Then at the same time you're against tip theft?

Why shouldn't the business owner take all the tips from employees.

They deserve to be paid peanuts and starve anyways, right?

Comment #4 by Donnn Roach on 2012 06 22

@ Donna Roach I want you to get paid what you are worth. I hire people to make money for me I pay a percentage that I feel is fair to the labor performed. More experience, better worker, makes me more money. I want to keep that worker I pay them more.
I'm running a business to make money. Not to provide anyone else with a living. The government telling me I must pay more. What does the government know about my business, products or services? Only how to tax them.
The owner of a resturaunt can raise the prices on the menu. That's what I'll pay for the meal. When I tip it is for the service I recieved from the wait staff.

Comment #5 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 06 23

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