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Servers offer their two cents on eliminating tip wages



waiter cafe new york

The past year has seen a surge of stories about sexual harassment, from the political world to Hollywood, in business and in communities.

In New York and many other states, sexual harassment has been seen as a problem in the food service industry in particular.

In December 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor, aligning itself with the National Restaurant Association, proposed a rule that would allow employers to keep workers’ tips when they are paid at least the minimum wage. The idea was that tipping was to blame for high rates of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he plans to end minimum wage tip credits and instead have servers, like other workers, earn a flat rate.

Those in support of a flat pay rate say that, under the current system, sometimes a server has to choose between overlooking inappropriate behavior and risking the loss of a tip by protesting.
But local restaurant workers — tipped or not — feel they and others in the service industry are being shortchanged. Many local service employees say they aren’t flashing a smile to harassing customers for better tips.

“It’s an absolute cop-out!” Bullpen Tavern owner Paul Bricoccoli said about the theory that tips fuel sexual harassment.

Numerous servers interviewed in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties said they work hard for their tips and want to keep their tips but will not tolerate sexual harassment for better tips. Most of them emphasized that they, and their bosses, are prepared to protest bad behavior.

“Anyone who disrespects my female employees is out the door in 10 seconds. I have no problem kicking people out who treat my employees with disrespect,” Bricoccoli said.

Bricoccoli has four female servers/bartenders and said he has rarely had any issues with sexual harassment. In his 24 years in business, he said he has heard the odd inappropriate comment and witnessed a grab her and there, but it has been addressed on the spot.

“And if you do (have problems), it’s the owner’s fault. Using tips as the reason is such an excuse,” he said.

Not always right
Lauren Squires, a bartender and server at O’Toole’s Restaurant Pub in Queensbury, credits her management for maintaining a respectful atmosphere.

“We’re servers, not slaves,” Squires said.

Squires said she has received her share of lascivious comments, but she isn’t afraid to handle them on her own.

“But honestly, he or even our regulars would put an end to it before I even had to,” Squires said, pointing to her boss, Mike Moynihan, the general manager.

“We’re a little family here, from the front of house to the back. We all have each other’s backs.”

Squires did note that the “customer is always right” ethos tilts the equation, creating a power imbalance, but added that, at some point, the customer is just wrong.

Maggie Raczynski, a bartender at Outback Steakhouse in Clifton Park, said her staff would never stand for sexual harassment either, because “here we treat each other like family.”

“And family doesn’t stand for that,” she said.

Raczynski cited a recent piece from The New York Times, published on March 12 and headlined “The Tipping Equation.” The story explored how far is too far when weighing harassing behavior for a better tip.

In the article, waitresses described encounters they had with pushy men who touched them, made outrageous remarks and threatened their tip if they didn’t participate in the power trip.

Raczynski said an even more infuriating aspect of the story were the women’s cases in which the waitstaff confided in their managers, who then sided with the customers. One even shook a customer’s hand after he had made inappropriate remarks to the waitress.

“Just because we work for tips doesn’t mean we don’t have basic human rights and don’t know the difference between right and wrong,” Raczynski said.

Asked to leave
In this area, The Post-Star approached servers at seven local establishments to ask about their experience with sexual harassment in the workplace and tipping. Two servers did not participate, because they didn’t want to discuss their incidents or get their workplace in trouble; one never followed up with The Post-Star; one said she has never dealt with sexual harassment at work; and the other three, quoted in this story, said they address any problems they do encounter head-on.

All of the interviewed establishments have their own sexual harassment policies, and most assign a new server to an offending customer or simply ask the offending customer to leave.

“If you cross a line with me, your money won’t make or break my life. And if your boss won’t do something about it, your boss has a boss. There are other options and nobody should have to tolerate that. Trust me, there’s another job for you in another restaurant,” Raczynski said.

Fighting to save tips
In New York, there are roughly 200,000 servers and bartenders, making those jobs the most common in the state.

On March 21, restaurant workers and their allies won bipartisan support from members of Congress and the Trump administration to include a provision in the omnibus budget bill that, if enacted, codifies protections for tipped restaurant workers against employers, supervisors and managers taking any portion of their tips.

Employers in New York currently are permitted to pay tipped workers a direct cash wage that is below the state minimum wage and take a “credit” for some of the tips received by employees to satisfy the difference between the cash wage paid and the full minimum wage.

With the current model, servers can make a good living. Data from the New York City Hospitality Alliance show that servers could average $25 an hour with tips.

Raczynski makes anywhere from $17 to $35 an hour from tips alone, she said. Her $7.50 per hour wage comes on top of that.

“It’s because I work hard at my job and am good at my job, and for no other reason,” she said.

Kelsey Silburn, 25, a bartender at Bullpen, said the tips make the work feasible.

“Most of us would not be able to pay our bills without the tips that we receive, even if the minimum wage was raised,” Silburn said, talking about the legislation to emphasize wages over tips. “It seems like those in charge of making this decision don’t really understand how something like this will affect the employees and the restaurant business as a whole.”

That message was echoed loud and clear on March 15 at Longfellows Hotel in Saratoga Springs.

More than 100 servers and restaurant owners attended a meeting that day, and Raczynski was one of them. Joshua Chaisson, a leader with Restaurant Workers of America and within Restaurant Workers of Maine, helped lead the meeting.

Restaurant Workers of America is the first organization of its kind — an employee advocacy organization dedicated to the preservation of tip income.

The purpose of the forum was to get servers and other service industry employees from the area together to express their dislike for the proposed tip credit law and discuss how to move forward. When the topic of sexual harassment fueling the tip proposal came up, numerous women, and men, made gestures and sounds of disappointment.

“What a lie” and “so insulting” were comments audience members made.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, was FaceTimed into the conversation.

“You’re professional salespeople and not victims, and I support you,” Woerner said over the phone.

Raczynski wrote a letter in response to the 16 celebrities who announced their support for Cuomo’s proposal. Between New York and Maine, 500 servers have signed the letter.

“To the celebrity women who recently criticized the full-service restaurant industry, from thousands of women who work in it, thank you for your concern. But we don’t need your help, and we’re not asking to be saved. You’ve been misled that we earn less than minimum wage, and that we are somehow helpless victims of sexual harassment,” is how the letter starts.

“Bad behavior happens in every industry — Hollywood celebrities should know better than most that sexual harassment happens everywhere. The people who are pushing for this change in the restaurant industry are exploiting the isolated stories of people that have suffered injustices, and making it out to be the industry’s or the tipping system’s fault. That is just not true.”

“We respect your profession, and now it’s time for you to respect ours.”


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Rep. Zoe Lofgren asks Google CEO why she got Trump pictures when she searched for ‘idiot’




google ceo zoe lofgren

Rep. Zoe Lofgren wants to know why so many pictures of President Donald Trump appear when she does a Google search for “idiot.”

“Right now, if you Google the word ‘idiot’ under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that,” the California Democrat told Google CEO Sundar Pichai during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday in Washington.

“How would that happen? How does search work so that would occur?” Lofgren asked Pichai. The Google CEO – who was at the hearing to address allegations of political bias in his company’s widely used search engine – said the results are based on billions of keywords ranked according to more than 200 factors such as relevance and popularity.

“So it’s not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user?” Lofgren asked rhetorically. “It’s basically a compilation of what users are generating.”
A Google image search for the word “idiot” by USA TODAY found that Trump was not the top result. That honor went to a copy of Evert Larock’s painting, “The Idiot,” which is linked to by Wikipedia. But Trump appeared in 13 of the top 17 results. A combination photo of Trump’s sons Donald and Eric came in at No. 6.

Republicans have long accused Google of political bias, which the company has strongly denied.

In August, Trump said in a tweet that a Google search for “Trump News” showed only reports from “Fake News Media.” He concluded it was “RIGGED” against him so “almost all stories & news is BAD.”

“Illegal?” he wondered.


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Fox’s Pete Hegseth Promoted Senate Candidate on Show After Being Paid By Michigan GOP




pete hegseth

We don’t really need more evidence to know that Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth is a Republican shill. After all, this is the guy who responded to the March for Our Lives by mocking teenage victims of gun violence and stating on-air that he had donated to the National Rifle Association in the wake of Parkland school massacre.

Now, Media Matters for America is reporting that last May, the Livingston County Republican Committee in Michigan paid him over $10,000 to be a keynote speaker at a Lincoln Day Dinner featuring GOP Senate candidate John James. Those payments were issued to Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Hegseth, over a period of five months this year, Media Matters for America said.

James, who was backed by President Donald Trump, lost to three-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in last month’s midterm elections. Before that election, Hegseth, who admits he’s not a journalist, hosted James on Fox & Friends Weekend four times in the lead-up to the campaign. And as the report points out, Hegseth did not disclose to his viewers that he had been paid by the GOP committee.

Per Media Matters for America:

-On September 9, Hegseth told James that his race is “one to watch, for sure, largely because of a strong candidacy you’re running.”

-On October 14, Hegseth told James that “whatever you’re doing is working, according to the polls, and I don’t always believe [polling].” Echoing the candidate’s own talking point, Hegseth later asked James: “What is the most important fresh perspective that is resonating with people in your state?”

-On October 28, Hegseth suggested that James was “closing the gap against his Democratic opponent,” telling him that his message “seems to be resonating in your race” based on “recent poll numbers in the Michigan Senate race” which showed James “trailing by, you know, seven points, which is a lot less than where you were, and if you consider the margin of error, it could even be closer than that.”

Other Fox employees also have used their high-visibility platform to shamelessly promote Trump and other Republicans. The most notorious recent example was an appearance by Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro alongside Trump at a campaign rally in Missouri in early November. Following that event, Fox issued a disingenuous statement claiming it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.” The network added that, “This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”

Has it?

Media Matters for America also reported that Pirro has received over $200,000 in speaking fees from over a dozen GOP organizations in the past two years.

Fox did not respond to a request for comment by Media Matters for America. My guess is that they don’t have much to say.


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Why Trump turned back to tough tariff talk





Auto tariffs were the big takeaway from this weekend’s meeting between President Trump and Chinese leaders. The aim was to de-escalate the trade war, but the real threat to American auto jobs isn’t Chinese tariffs on US-made cars. It’s Beijing’s plan to flood the US with cut-rate cars made with low-paid labor.

After the trade powwow, Trump advisers reported that China will drop or remove its punitive 40 percent tariff on autos imported from the US. Don’t pop the champagne corks: Removing Chinese tariffs on US autos will do almost nothing for our autoworkers.

The big three US automakers will tell you “we build where we sell.” They’ve moved operations to China, because the Asian giant is where the US was in 1925 in terms of car ownership, with plenty of first-time buyers. Ford reports, for example, that only 2 percent of its vehicles sold in China are made here.

Likewise, GM makes more cars in China than it does here, and the company sells more in China. The truth is that GM is more Chinese than it is American.

Back in the United States, the problem ahead is the coming wave of cheap Chinese-made cars. It’s a rerun of what Japan and South Korea did in the 1970s and ’80s. Their low-priced cars killed thousands of jobs in auto-producing states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

Now five Chinese auto companies plan to sell in America within two years. Chinese auto workers make on average $11,000 a year, per Auto Express magazine.

No wonder Chinese negotiators say they want both sides to scrap all tariffs. It’s a trick. Fortunately, Trump doesn’t seem to be falling for it. “I’m a Tariff Man,” the president tweeted on Tuesday. He’s appointed a hard-line, pro-tariff US trade rep, Robert Lighthizer, to spearhead the Chinese negotiations.

It’s a sign Trump appreciates that tariffs are vital to staving off more disasters like the GM plant closings announced last month.

On Nov. 26, GM CEO Mary Barra blindsided the nation, announcing that the company is shuttering four US factories — including the Lordstown, Ohio, plant that makes the Chevy Cruze, and the iconic Detroit-Ham­tramck plant that produces the Chevy Volt and other sedans.

The closings will lay off 3,300 production workers and 15 percent of GM’s white-collar workforce. Barra’s justification is that its sedans aren’t selling, and the closings are needed to “stay in front of a fast-changing market.” Investors agreed. GM stock soared.

Though longtime employees can move to other GM plants, many workers will end up in low-paying jobs or unemployed. In towns like Hamtramck, stores will be boarded up and rows of houses will be for sale.

In 2016, candidate Trump pledged to prevent such outcomes. Trumbull County, home of the Lordstown plant, went for Trump after giving President Barack Obama a 22-point margin in 2012.

Hearing GM’s grim announcement last week, Trump immediately called for tariffs. He pointed to the 25 percent tariff imposed on light trucks since 1964, which has guaranteed US dominance of the pickup and SUV markets ever since. “If we did that with cars coming in, many more cars would be built here,” the president tweeted, “and GM would not be closing their plants in Ohio, Michigan [and] Maryland.”

Trump also improved protections for US auto jobs when he renegotiated the trade pact with Mexico and Canada, announced last week. Pending congressional approval, the pact requires that at least 75 percent of a car’s value — meaning parts and labor — originate in North America for the car to be duty-free. That’s up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA.

The move will force companies that assemble in Mexico, like Nissan and Volkswagen, to use North American-made parts. To protect US wages, nearly half of all the parts will have to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour — a jab at Mexico, which has some of the lowest auto wages in the world.

GM’s Barra is coming to Washington this week with mea culpas. But GM’s future as a company is largely in China and other new, foreign markets. Fortunately, Trump has American auto workers’ backs.


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