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Group aims to raise minimum wage for tipped workers
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On every shift, servers must take sometimes complex food orders, ensure that food reaches its intended destination at the proper temperature and stand on their feet for hours at a time.

For many servers, this balancing act is performed for $2.13 an hour. "Most people are probably aware that in 2007, Congress acted to raise the federal minimum wage in three steps to a modest $7.25 an hour," said Cindia Cameron, co-chairwoman of the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition. "What people may not be aware of is that tipped workers have a separate minimum wage that has not been (increased) since 1991."

Servers are the largest category of tipped workers, with the poverty level being triple that of the overall work force, Cameron said.

With that in mind, the coalition is asking Georgians to support raising the minimum wage for tipped workers.

The coalition is working to gain support for House Resolution 2570, which was introduced last year in the U.S. Congress. The bill would raise the base hourly rate for tipped employees to $3.75 within three months of enactment and to $5.50 by 2012.

"(Increasing the wages) of the lowest waged workers actually has the greatest stimulus effect for the local economy," Cameron said. "When the customer base has more money, they can afford to buy more in local stores."

But given the current state of the economy, building support for the bill may be a difficult task, especially among small business owners.

"The problem with that is that our revenue has been cut by about 40 percent over the last three years," said Tina Roberts, co-owner of 2 Dog Restaurant in Gainesville. "On top of the recession, we’ve given away $6,000 in free food in one year (in coupon specials) just to get people in here. The biggest thing that we keep hearing is that (our customers) can’t afford to eat out much."

Not wanting to pay employees more isn’t the issue, Roberts said, it’s being able to afford to do so without going under.

"We pay a little more than (the minimum) anyway, but if we had to pay every employee $5 and such — the payroll taxes would kill us," she said. "Look at how many restaurants have closed in Gainesville alone. How could we possibly pay more and not go up on our prices. I hope the people who are pushing for this understand what they are doing."

But coalition officials said the current minimum does not provide workers with enough money to survive, and tips don’t always make up the difference.

"Our tips are vulnerable to things like the mood of the customers, how fast the food comes out and the weather," coalition member Brooklyn Cole said. "There have been shifts when I only made $10 and didn’t have money to pay for gas, my bills and my groceries."

Although federal law requires employers to make up the difference if a tipped employee’s base wage plus tips is less than $7.25, Cole said not all managers are aware of the law and thus compliance isn’t guaranteed.

"Ultimately, we need to get to a living wage — where the government and churches aren’t subsidizing the fact that businesses are paying low wages," said the Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley, the coalition’s faith-based organizer.

According to a 2008 survey provided by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a single adult in Hall County would need to earn at least $10.10 an hour to survive without public or private assistance.