Battle at Capitol over restaurant wages

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)–There’s a battle brewing at the State Capitol besides the one over highway tolls. This battle is over the pay restaurant workers get and it could see the first veto override of Governor Ned Lamont‘s term.

You may have missed this but late last Friday, Governor Lamont vetoed his first piece of legislation. It will come back to state lawmakers on Monday.

In Connecticut, tipped workers like bartenders and wait staff are paid a lower minimum wage than other workers. It’s $6.38 for wait staff and $8.23 for bartenders. Non tipped restaurant workers, like kitchen help are paid the $10.10 minimum wage which goes up to $11.00 in October.

If someone works in the kitchen part of the day and then join the wait staff part of the day, the employee is supposed to have two different pay rates. The bill that Governor Lamont vetoed would allow employers to pay the lower rate for the entire shift. The bill would also make the change retroactive for pending labor disputes and that was what Lamont called “unfair.”

Sources confirm that Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz is working to line up the votes to override the Governor’s veto when the Legislature meets on Monday. It takes 101 votes to override so he’ll need Republican votes to do it and it looks like he’ll get them.

House Minority Leader Rep. Themis Klarides (R-Derby) saying, “The Speaker and I had worked on that bill all session long so that’s something that we have been worked on as a partnership throughout session and we feel very strongly about overriding that veto.”

Republican votes would also be needed to achieve 24 votes to override in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Len Fasano (R-North Haven) says, “Absolutely we’ll go for the override. This is just clarifying existing law and therefor we should override this bill.”

But the Democratic leader in the Senate, Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) is non committal on if he will even call for an override vote saying, “We will be consulting with the Speaker and the House leadership about that for Monday but we have not caucused or polled our members yet.”

It may be that Senator Looney is being diplomatic about this because he has been working with the Governor’s office on some kind of potential compromise that would include tolls on some bridges and a revival of the Governor’s plan to just seek tolls on truckers. With most lawmakers back at the Capitol on Monday, there is likely to be more talk about that.

REPORTER NOTE;   Rep. Dave Rutigliano (R-Trumbull) owns and operates 6 restaurants in Connecticut.  He also worked on this legislation and adds the following;  “As long as 80% of their duties are directly related to serving the customer, the lower wage prevails.”

The following is a detailed release from the CT Restaurant Association;

CT RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION URGE LEGISLATORS TO OVERRIDE VETO OF HB 5001 The Connecticut Restaurant Association is urging legislators to override the Governor’s veto of H.B. 5001. First and foremost, the CRA strongly believes employers should not be penalized and/or sued if they have been following the Federal and Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) rule of 80/20 for their service employees. This rule allows for tipped employees to perform additional side work, as long as that work is a service duty related to their job and doesn’t exceed 20 percent of their time on the clock. H.B. 5001 is legislation that would clarify what has been the standard practice of the CT DOL with regard to tipped employees working in the restaurant industry. Rather than creating new rights or, more importantly, taking away an existing right, this legislation would bring much needed clarity and consistency to ambiguous regulatory language governing allowances for gratuities. For years, Connecticut Restaurant owners have been receiving contradictory guidance as to tipped employees. On the one hand, sec. 31-62-E4 of the Connecticut Regulations provides employers with one set of guidelines; however the CT DOL routinely provided information and standards at odds with these regulations. By repealing sec. 31-62-E4, this new legislation would clarify what has been—for a number of years—consistent DOL policy and practice. The Wage and Workplace Standards Division of the Connecticut Department of Labor submitted a booklet in November 2015 to restaurants titled, Basic Guide to Wage and Hour and Related Laws Regarding the Restaurant Industry. On page 14 of this document it specifies the 80/20 rule for tipped-employees and says: “The division (CT DOL) recognizes the difficulties encountered by employers regarding the amount of time an employee is performing non-service duties. Since classifying specific duties (service versus non-service) for purposes of having the employee segregate them on a time record is often difficult, the division has initiated an enforcement policy, which will make detailed classification largely moot. We will allow use of a tip credit if these non-service duties comprise of 20% or less of the service person’s total working time on a particular shift. As long as these non-service tasks are only occasionally performed and are of short duration, the employer need not require the employee to segregate them on the time record or pay the full minimum wage while they are being executed.” [Connecticut Department of Labor – Wage and Workplace Standards Division. (2015). “Basic Guide to Wage and House and Related Laws Regarding the Restaurant Industry.” 2015. PDF File. Page 14] In addition to repealing the language of this regulation, the restaurant association also agrees that this repeal should be applicable to actions pending on or filed on or after said date. The CRA believes that all employers who are currently fighting lawsuits as a result of these inconsistent regulations should be protected as well. These employers did nothing wrong; indeed, they were following the enforcements and standards set forth by the CT DOL and therefore should be protected if they didn’t violate the 80/20 rule. HB 5001 protects not only small businesses, but employees as well. Class action lawsuits such as these threaten to put restaurants owners out-of-business, placing hundreds of jobs in jeopardy. 

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