Tipped Wage Workers Push For Base Wage Increase

May 23, 2014

Cassandra Calway and her two teenage daughters getting ready for school.
Credit Simon Thompson

Single Parent Cassandra Calway supports her two teenage daughters by working at Cracker Barrel in Las Cruces. Because she is studying for a Masters in Social Work Cassie can only work part time. 

“You make $7.50 an hour, a box of cereal costs $4.00 and a gallon of gas is $3.39- your working one hour for that” she says.

Calway gets $300 in government assistance for each of her two daughters. She says combined with her earnings they live off anywhere between $900 and $1600 a month.

Even in a good month  that still leaves the single income family of three living just below the poverty line. 

Calway says her work situation is likely to improve, once she graduates. But that is going to be another 3 years and she is concerned about the effect on her daughters’ education.

“School supplies every year are horribly expensive and then they get to school and there is a whole other list ”
she says.

There are two proposals to raise the minimum wage in Las Cruces.  But only the one proposed by CAFÉ Communities in Action and Faith would raise the tipped minimum wage from $2.13  to  $6.06 by 2017.   

When tipped wage workers base wage and tipped earnings combined don’t add up to the minimum wage, employers are federally mandated to cover the difference.

City council members Miguel Silva and Ceil Levatino have proposed a much smaller increase in the Las Cruces minimum wage.  Their plan would increase the wage to $8.50 by 2016 and if tipped workers did not earn this amount from their base wage and tips the shortfall would have to be made up by their employer.

New Mexico State University Economics Professor Chris Erickson says this would still go a long way to support even the poorest wage workers.

“We don’t need to do it by raising the tipped min wage but by raising the amount that they are guaranteed to make-per hour which is the minimum wage not the tipped minimum wage” he says.

But Calway says the councilor’s plan is not so straightforward she says servers at Cracker Barrel sometimes perform other duties during which they cannot earn tips.  

“If you were there  three hours and you made $50 you have met the minimum for the day. So you wont get paid the extra for those two hours that you were not on the floor, because you’ve made the minimum wage requirement for five hours” she says.

Calway says a higher base wage closer to six dollars means employees would be adequately compensated for work when they can’t earn tips. 

But Dickerson Group Restaurant Owner Marci Dickerson says most of her tipped wage workers already earn far more than the minimum wage


“My average waitress pulls in $1000 a week- that is $52,000 a year “ she says.

Erickson says a higher tipped minimum wage probably would not damage the larger chains but could hurt independent restaurants.

“They end up as not being able to expand or even shrinking their business a little bit. Where as the large chains because they have deeper pockets are able to take advantage of that and gain market share” he says.

Dickerson says the higher tipped minimum wage would take away opportunities from servers moving up and  working hard to hone their skills. 

“Fifty new jobs are being brought to this town. That expansion will not be possible, the extra employment will not be possible if we are taxed and over burdened to the point that there is no money left” she says.

Dickerson says the onus is on lower skilled tipped wage earners to improve their skills and experience to find better opportunities.

Calway has been serving at Cracker Barrel for 5 years and has considered getting a job at a more expensive restaurant but the night hours required would have kept her away from her teenage daughters. 

“I know that I will never own a new car or a house of  my own – but I am going to make sure that the girls do and that’s the goal now – is to make it better as we go on to stop the circle of poverty “