Sign at Thai Delight de Mesilla encouraging customers to tip servers. The restaurant will remain only offering curbside pick up options even as state orders allow them to open for inside dining at 25% capacity. (Photo: Veronica Martinez)
LAS CRUCES – Before a work session is held on the mayor’s proposal to reduce tipped wages in an effort to help businesses weather reduced capacities due to coronavirus, most city councilors have said they oppose or likely oppose the idea.
A special city council work session, during which no action can be taken, will be held Sept. 22 to hear from business owners and tipped wage workers, such as restaurant servers. But the proposal may never reach a vote.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima said it’s not currently on any city council agenda in the coming weeks, but how the proposal will move forward will likely depend on feedback received Tuesday.
If the proposal came up for a vote, it’s unlikely the Las Cruces City Council would pass it. Five of seven councilors told the Sun-News they likely wouldn’t vote for it.
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District 6 Councilor Yvonne Flores could not be reached for comment, but signaled Sept. 14 she was hesitant to drop wages, saying it was a “tough call.”
The mayor said his idea to temporarily drop the tipped wage in Las Cruces to $2.55 an hour next year, to match the state’s 2021 hike, was spur of the moment when he pitched it to the city council this past Monday.
The city’s tipped minimum wage is scheduled to rise 10 cents Jan. 1, from $4.10 to $4.20, unless the council amends the city’s wage ordinance.
But the mayor said his proposal was inspired by conversations about the minimum wage he had last year, during which he learned that keeping the state tipped wage intact made the New Mexico Restaurant Association approve of the state’s $12 minimum wage law.
The NMRA confirmed this with the Sun-News.
Carol Wight, CEO of the NMRA, said she doesn’t imagine Las Cruces business owners would decrease their workers’ pay if given the option.
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“I don’t think restaurants would go backwards,” Wight said, but she added restaurants would probably just hire new employees at the lower tipped level.
Wight said while the mayor’s proposal would help restaurants, capacity limits imposed by state public health orders are a bigger financial hurdle. She said capacity limits on indoor dining will be a problem as the weather gets cooler.
District 4 Councilor Johana Bencomo called the proposal “wage theft.”
“Workers deserve what they were promised,” she said.
Bencomo serves as the executive director for the nonprofit New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (NM CAFé), which pushed for the minimum wage increase in Las Cruces in 2014 — though she wasn’t an employee for CAFé until after the wage ordinance was passed.
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“The thing with tipped wages is they’re so inconsistent,” said District 2 Councilor Tessa Abeyta Stuve. Abeyta Stuve worked in food service for nearly a decade, beginning at age 14, and spent three and a half years as a server making tips. “You’re not necessarily making this huge livable wage.”
While it’s unlikely the proposal will be passed, Miyagishima still touted its potential benefits. He said it would be akin to the city providing a relief package without any exchange of money.
Miyagishima also said he imagines some restaurants may not take advantage of the lower tipped wage or could reduce wages only slightly.
“Not every business is as strong as the next one,” the mayor said.
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Bencomo said she’d rather look at alternative ways to help businesses that don’t include taking pay from workers.
District 5 Councilor Gill Sorg said he’d support keeping the city’s tipped wage at $4.10 for the next year, delaying the planned rise to $4.20 an hour until 2022, instead of dropping the wage down to $2.55.
While Miyagishima said he understands tipped workers may still take home less pay if his proposal were to go into effect, he’s more concerned about businesses closing for good and jobs permanently being axed.
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Michael McDevitt can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.
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