Congress may toss S.F.’s minimum wage

Bill would supersede local, state law, make $2.13 hourly the base for tipped workers

Waiters, bellhops and other San Francisco workers who receive tips may soon see their wages drop by nearly $7 an hour.

As early as this Friday, the U.S. Senate could vote on Republican-sponsored legislation that city officials say would pre-empt The City’s minimum wage law for tipped workers and set their salaries at a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, a $6.69 reduction in pay. The House of Representatives approved the measure last Saturday.

The legislation would invalidate San Francisco and California state law that sets the minimum wage for tipped employees at the same minimum wage as all other employees. California is one of seven states with such a law.

A resolution opposing the measure was introduced Tuesday by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and was unanimously supported by the board.

“This is going to take tens of thousands of dollars out of low-wage workers’ pockets,” Peskin said, adding that $2.13 an hour plus tips “is not something that people can survive on in San Francisco.”

“The voters of San Francisco voted overwhelmingly to create a city minimum wage. I don’t think that the United States Congress should take away the rights of San Francisco’s voters,” Peskin said.

Tipped workers in San Francisco could see their salaries cut by $267.60 a week, or nearly $14,000 a year, if the bill passes.

Some restaurant owners have embraced the legislation. Lauri Thomas, owner of Rose Pistola restaurant in North Beach, said the legislation would be “good for the economy,” adding that it allows business owners to control costs. Her wait staff pulls in at least $22 an hour and could survive with the loss of a few dollars, she said.

Not all business owners think it’s a good idea. “Dropping to $2.13 is a little extreme,” said Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. But Westlye acknowledged that The City’s minimum wage makes it difficult for restaurants to survive. In November 2003, San Francisco voters adopted a higher minimum wage for all workers than the rest of the state, which now mandates $6.75 an hour. Since then, Westlye said, hundreds of restaurants have closed.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., announced Monday she would oppose the legislation. While the legislation would increase the federal minimum wage of $5.15 to $7.25 in the next three years, Feinstein said, it would also destroy “everything that has been achieved in seven states to support low-wage workers who earn tips.”

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

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