The U.S. Department of Labor has extended the comment period on a new rule that some restaurant employees contend could lead to owners shorting them on a portion of their tips.
The issue has drawn the attention of actress Jane Fonda, a former Rowe, New Mexico resident, who has recorded a video urging restaurant servers and other tipped employees to speak out against the measure backed by the Trump administration.
"Restaurant servers are about to get totally screwed under a sneaky new rule," said Fonda in the Facebook clip, which now has more than 16 million views. "The Department of Labor has proposed a new rule that will let restaurant owners legally steal their workers' tips."
The rule change would allow owners to mandate a concept known as tip pooling, where servers and others who earn tip income would be required to put the money in a pot, so it can be distributed to dishwashers, cooks and others who don't normally earn tips directly from customers.
Groups such as the National Restaurant Association have long favored the idea of tip pooling as a way to close the disparity between those who earn tips and other workers whose contributions to a positive dining experience can be just as important.
In fact, many restaurant patrons calculate their tips based on not only the qualities of a server or bartender, but the entire experience of dining or drinking out, including the atmosphere and quality of food.
But there have been problems with tip pooling - and the new rule doesn't seem to offer any protections for employees who get 100 percent of what a restaurant receives from patrons. The rule doesn't prohibit businesses from withholding tips to those earning more than minimum wage. There also have been instances where a certain fee is charged by the restaurant for administering the tip pool, and the rule doesn't prohibit this practice.
The Labor Department estimates there are approximately 1.08 million waiters and waitresses and 219,000 bartenders nationwide who receive tips in 280,000 establishments.
There is no doubt towns such as Santa Fe and Taos have a lot of tipped workers. In Santa Fe, most restaurants here already have a shared-tip arrangement where back of the house workers get a portion of all the proceeds.
The reality is that with more and more restaurant meals being paid for with credit, debit and direct-payment applications from smartphones, it is harder than ever for individual workers to get paid their tip income without going through management and getting "tipped out" at the end of a shift.
Still, the issue is emotional, because these same workers have low hourly wages in the range of $2 to $3 and rely on tips to pay basic monthly bills.
Comments on the rule will be received until Feb. 5. For more information or to post a comment, go to the Department of Labor website, dol.gov/WHD/flsa/tipcreditnprm.htm.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.