Amended tipped wage bill heads for House vote next week

If passed, it could prevent a steep wage hike should a federal $15 minimum wage come to fruition

Female Server With Order In Tray At Cafe

New Hampshire’s tipped minimum wage won’t be frozen at $3.27 an hour, but it will be untethered from the state minimum wage, if the House Labor Committee version of SB 137 becomes law.

This could mean good news or bad news for tipped workers, depending on what the federal government does with its minimum wage.

Officially, the New Hampshire has no minimum wage – the only Northeastern state without one. As a result, the state defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25. The lowest wage among the adjoining states is Vermont, at $11.75. Massachusetts has the highest minimum at $13.50.

Tipped workers do make the minimum, sometimes much more, thanks to tips added to the tipped wage. Federal law requires tipped workers make at least the federal minimum wage, though enforcement is spotty, so the tipped wage could be important to servers, particularly those who work weekdays in restaurants with affordable menus and without much traffic.

Here, New Hampshire still is behind its neighbors. Massachusetts has the lowest tipped wage at $5.55 whereas Maine pays at least $6.08. But New Hampshire does better than the national minimum of $2.13 an hour.

Most states set a specific tipped wage in law, or most of the states that adopted the federal minimum adopted the federal tipped wage as well.

However, as usual, New Hampshire does thing differently. Lawmakers here tied the tipped wage to 45% of the minimum wage, thus the $3.37.

Restaurants are concerned what happens if the federal minimum wage goes up to $15 an hour, a position long advocated by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and since adopted by the Democratic Party which now controls Congress and the presidency. President Joe Biden, who unsuccessfully tried to get it included in the American Rescue Plan, the congressional parliamentarian said it would have to be in a separate bill, and therefore would probably face a Republican filibuster.

However, if it did pass it would make the tipped wage $6.75 an hour, the highest among our neighboring states.

“That would be catastrophic,” said Rep. Brian Seaworth, R-Merrimack, who sponsored the House amendment on Wednesday. “It would happen automatically without any action by the Legislature. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The original Senate bill would have frozen the tipped wage in statute, so if the federal wage went up, the tipped wage would stay the same. But Seaworth recognized that federal law preempts state law, so his amendment would set at the federal tipped wage, should it increase, but “in no case less than $3.27,” an hour. If the federal government does raise the minimum wage but leave the tipped wage the same, or it does nothing at all, tipped workers would still make $3.27. If the feds increase the tip wage above that amount however, New Hampshire servers would get that amount.

The Democrats suggested increasing the tipped minimum to $7.25 an hour.

“$7.25 is good enough for some folks, it good enough for everyone,” said Rep. Joshua Adjutant, D-Bristol.

But Gregg Hough, R-Laconia, argued that increasing the tipped wage “had the potential to put some places out of business.”

Committee Chair Rep. Will Infantine, R-Manchester, argued the House is doing those who are advocating a higher wage a favor.

“This makes it easier because every time you try to increase the minimum wage, the biggest barkers are those with tipped employers. When you separate them, it makes it easer to increase one or the other,” said Infantine.

The committee passed the amendment and the bill 11 to 8.  The full House is expected to vote on it next week.

Categories: Government