Democrats and the tipped wage issue: a strategically weak stance

Just about all the jobs I’ve had involved working with the public. I also know lots of people from my sports days or other connections over time. The long and short of it is, I can’t go far in central Maine without seeing someone I know.

You can ask my kids who used to beg me not to talk to anyone every time we entered the grocery store. I told them it’s rude not to acknowledge people who know and acknowledge you, and I considered myself lucky to have met so many nice people in my life.

I used to them their best bet was to take their request directly to God. I tried to interject the idea of faith anywhere I could since I didn’t make them go to church weekly as I had as a child.

On the way into the grocery, they were free to recite, Please God don’t let mom see anyone she knows. And God forbid, if I did, they knew they were free to recite the gospel according to Petty quietly to themselves while they waited politely. You’re never too young to learn that with all things in life, the waiting is the hardest part.

But I digress from my point, which is I’ve had a lot of random conversations about a lot of things with a lot of different walks of life over the years. With former students, former restaurant co-workers, former clients, former patrons of the library, former schoolmates, former- seemingly ad infinitum.

In these conversations, we catch up on day to day life details and banter the issues of the moment. We discuss challenges facing us individually and issues facing our communities. There’s one conversation I’ve never had, and that’s a concern about waitresses not being able to make a living in Maine.


I have had former co-workers say this restaurant or that restaurant wasn’t doing as well as it used to, and they may switch to another; but the best of the best in this area tend to stay in that line of work. Some may leave to try other things like I did, but a big chunk of that group went back.

Often I am the butt of the joke in these conversations because I’ve only had one professional job — and it was a part-time one — that paid me as much an hour as I could make behind a bar in 1990. I’m not talking converting dollar values, either. I’ve long joked about how my derriere (not the word I usually use) with a glass in my hand still exceeds the value of my college-educated, professionally experienced derriere.

I was thinking about all those conversations and the dollar value of my former self when I wrote my last post saying I agreed with reinstating tipped wages after the passage of Question 4 in November changed the structure.

I thought about the conversations I had with people leading up to the election who, like me, were supportive of increasing the minimum wage but had concerns about changing the payroll structure for wait staff. I know I have at least one email from a reader to that effect, as well.

I think that people like me had those concerns shows the problem with presenting voters with one simple yes or no question that represents legislation that doesn’t lend itself to one binary choice.

After receiving negative feedback about my post (quelle surprise!) from a staff member at the Maine People’s Alliance, I further realized this issue epitomizes Democrats’, who oppose reinstating tipped wages, weak sense of strategy.

First of all, Democrats and their strategists aren’t going to win over any hearts and minds by using terms like fear mongering in relation to well-known, hard-working small business owner-operators who are longstanding, respected, contributing members of our communities. That should be a no-brainer, especially after Hillary’s “deplorables” debacle, but apparently not.

Second, our state is facing some serious life and death issues. Serious economic issues. Serious issues up the wazoo. I can’t fathom why Democrats are willing to waste so much political capital on a relative non-issue when they should be leveraging every inch of capital they have to protect Maine’s most vulnerable citizens from our governor’s budget proposal.

Are Democrats aware we’ve got hospitals saying they’re on the brink of failing and people in need of treatment access who can die from their substance use disorders? How about making sure any restaurant workers whose earnings may be around the poverty line have access to MaineCare?

I’ve written before how I think both parties sometimes place too much value on proving the righteousness of their respective ideology. Being bound to righteous ideology can get in the way of making real accomplishments on things of real value to citizens.

The Democrats adamant position on this tipped wage thing is a classic example.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.