Hart Van Denburg at Minneapolis City Pages:
Waiters and waitresses around the state were startled to learn the other day that Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer thought they were overpaid, after hearing about a very few servers at a St. Paul resto who reportedly make more than $100,000 a year.
Emmer managed to generalize that out-of-the-ballpark outlier stat to all servers in the state: He wants restaurant owners to be able to pay their wait staff a baseline sub-minimum wage.
Here’s the quote that got him in trouble:
“With the tips that they get to take home, there are some people earning over $100,000 a year. More than the very people providing the jobs and investing not only their life savings but their families’ future.”
Make it up in tips, he told servers — as if tips represent predictable income.
But the law’s not on his side. Minnesota and six other states don’t allow employers to pay workers less than the minimum wage if they earn tips.
Tom Emmer, on his campaign website:
Yesterday we kicked off the next phase of the Freedom and Prosperity Project. We are talking with different businesses around the state about the most important issue in this election: jobs. The first stop was at a restaurant where we listened to the owners talk about things state government could do to keep and grow jobs. They mentioned a tip credit, already in place in 43 other states including all of our neighboring states.
When a reporter asked if I supported the concept of a tip credit, I answered yes. I want the wait staff at a restaurant to be successful and make as much as they can, and a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters shows that tip credits have essentially no negative impact on wages for tipped employees. So contrary to what some people are saying, I have no interest in “cutting wages.”
Tip credits can impact jobs, and in a good way. Tip credits can help employers hire more people, or pay other employees higher wages. In today’s economy, we have to do everything we can to grow jobs, including hospitality jobs.
When the Legislature tried to raise the minimum wage, I supported a modest tip credit, freezing tipped employees at the current minimum wage to account for the wages they received as tips. This proposal was designed to prevent layoffs at bars and restaurants across the state as we headed into the recession. And, in fact, over 4000 jobs were lost last year in the hospitality industry as the recession took hold. Ultimately, our legislative leaders refused this modest concession.
I am a strong believer that a paycheck is better than an unemployment check. Job losses and business closings aren’t good for anybody. The United Auto Workers Union learned that lesson the hard way, as our auto industry almost collapsed at least partly due to an unwillingness to negotiate wage, benefit, and work rules that would have kept the industry afloat.
Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:
Emmer tried to backtrack by posting a statement on his website, declaring that his proposal would not actually affect workers’ wages at all: “I want the wait staff at a restaurant to be successful and make as much as they can, and a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters shows that tip credits have essentially no negative impact on wages for tipped employees. So contrary to what some people are saying, I have no interest in ‘cutting wages.'”
The Star Tribune published an editorial with the fitting title, “Tip to Emmer: Drop gratuity idea.” Of his insistence that economic forces would result in workers’ pay remaining the same, they said: “The result is a contradictory message with a cynical aftertaste. Emmer appears to be telling business owners that he wants to do them a favor at their workers’ expense. Then he tells those same workers: Don’t worry. Your employers will discover they can’t really lower your pay, no matter what state law says.”
Meanwhile, the restaurant owner involved said that he had received hateful phone calls over the matter. He also insisted that he never actually told Emmer that his staff members were making over $100,000, and that Emmer’s quote itself was “manipulated.” It should be noted that the Star Tribune’s reporter stands by the quote, saying that it is in on tape — and that Minnesota Public Radio separately reported Emmer saying the same thing.
In his press release announcing the listening session with servers, Emmer said: “This week we met with business owners and next week we will listen to the employees, especially servers concerned about the tip credit issue. I’m looking forward to a robust discussion.”
One tremendous problem we have in this country is that too many who run in whitecollarish circles get absolutely enraged at the idea that some people working in blue collar or service industry jobs might actually be making a few bucks. It doesn’t matter how hard those jobs are, that the jobs might actually require a high level of skills, or how many years people have been in those jobs, they’re somehow seen as lesser jobs.
I’m reminded of when my local transit authority went on strike, and people were absolutely livid that some lowly bus drivers earned $50K per year. My response, of course, was to suggest that if you think earning $50K per a year in a job with limited career advancement opportunities, driving a goddamn bus down narrow Philadelphia streets 40 hours a week sounds like an excellent job opportunity, then go become a bus driver.
While this is clearly amusing, and the kind of thing that can really resonate in a campaign (see “chicken for checkups”), it’s worth keeping in mind that the limits of Emmer’s ideology go well beyond bizarre ideas about servers and tips.
Indeed, by some measures, Emmer has the most radical ideas about constitutional law of any gubernatorial challenger running this year.
Emmer, who’s also a lawyer, believes in a 19th-century-era concept called “nullification.” It’s kind of like secession-lite — states can overrule federal law whenever they choose to do so. The concept has been rejected as nonsense since the Civil War, but Emmer has not only endorsed it, he co-sponsored a measure that would presumptively nullify all federal laws in the state of Minnesota.
Under Emmer’s proposal, no federal mandate upon the state would be honored by Minnesota unless the governor, Speaker of the state House and state Senate Majority Leader were to issue determinations that the federal government has the power to legislate in that area. If any of those three officials were to determine that the federal government does not have the relevant power, the mandate could not take effect unless the legislature passed a law specifically applying it.
MinnPost pointed out to Emmer that this idea runs afoul of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which established that federal laws are the “supreme Law of the Land” to which states are bound. It was only noted that Emmer’s method skips the traditionally accepted manner for states to challenge a federal law, to file a lawsuit and adjudicate the matter in the courts. Emmer responded that this is the “preferred mechanism by some. That is usually federal-leaning constitutionalists.” But he said the states shouldn’t wait for courts to determine the scope of the federal government’s authority.
Emmer even wrote an op-ed a few weeks ago insisting, “As governor, I will push back against this federal encroachment into our local affairs. I believe that our Legislature should have a voice in whether federal laws should be made to apply to Minnesotans.”
This isn’t just a garden-variety bad idea; this is truly crazy. It’s the kind of sentiment one might expect from John C. Calhoun in 1833, not a 21st-century major-party gubernatorial candidate.