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Mega crowd expected for ‘tipped wage’ hearing at State Capitol

Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Is a solution to Connecticut’s ‘tipped wage‘ issue at hand?

Representatives of the state’s nearly 8,000 bars and restaurants, as well as nearly 150,000 workers that wait tables and tend bar across the state, are expected at the capitol Thursday.

It’s a chance to explain to state lawmakers why the state’s ‘tipped wage’ law must be fixed as law suits against restaurant groups continue to pile up.

Back in June, the Governor vetoed a bill that was supposed to address this. The sides have been working ever since to find a solution.

As of last month, there are nearly 20 lawsuits against Connecticut restaurant groups representing nearly 100 restaurants claiming the state’s ‘tipped wage’ law was improperly applied and wait staff and bartenders were underpaid.

The general guidance that restaurants have been following from the state Labor Department is that if an employee spends 80% of their time serving the public, the lower tipped wage applies: $6.38 for wait staff, $8.23 for bartenders. Otherwise, the new $11 per hour ‘minimum wage’ would apply.

That guidance is what restaurant and bar representatives want clarified.

Senate President Pro tem Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said, the attempts to deal with the issue were based on “in some cases – improper guidance from the State Labor Department that the restaurant owners, in good faith, followed.”

For his part, Governor Lamont is glad there will be a hearing, saying, “It’s important that people have a chance to have their say, but then it’s time to take action so we keep these small businesses – these restaurants – going.”

The Governor and his staff have been negotiating with legislative leaders for the past three months on a proposal to clarify the law and stem the
law suits.

What’s been proposed is to limit liability if a restaurant owner acted in good faith by following the guidance from the Labor Department. The proposal would limit that liability to just double damages.

Some believe that if a clarification of the law is not put on the books; wait staff and bartenders could end up losing their tip income.

The Deputy House Minority Leader, Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford) said, “If this bill isn’t fixed it’s actually going to potentially cause all of wait staff to lose their tips and be paid minimum wage.”

State lawmakers are expecting a large crowd for this public hearing. Two of the largest hearing rooms at the State Capitol complex have been reserved for the overflow crowd.

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