On May 21, 2009, I introduced the Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act, H.R. 2570, which increases the minimum wage for tipped workers.

This important legislation rolls back an ill-advised policy that has resulted in 18 years of frozen wages for tipped employees.  While the minimum wage for most workers was increased in 2007, tipped employees were left behind at rates that have not been increased since 1991.  In fact, in 1996 Congress took the unprecedented step to freeze the wages of tipped employees.  As a result, by July 2009, the wages for tipped workers will be less than half what they would have been had Congress not taken this unnecessary action.

Tipped workers, who struggle every day and contribute tremendously to this economy, have been left behind for too long.  It is time that we act to ensure that all workers, tipped or otherwise, can make a decent wage through honest and hard work.  I am proud of this bill because it reflects a value that the majority of us hold dear: that no one should be denied fair wages for their work.

The WAGES Act takes the steps necessary to restore fairness to our minimum wage and ensure that tipped employees are not subjected to additional years of frozen wages. It increases the minimum wage from the current rate of $2.13 per hour to $3.75 per hour three months after enactment.  It then raises the minimum wage of tipped employees to $5.00 per hour in 2011, and 70% of minimum wage, but no less than $5.50 per hour, by 2012.

Restaurant workers have been hit hard by the erosion of their minimum wage.  For instance, nearly 15% of all waiters and waitresses live below the federal poverty level, while only 5.7% of the workforce as a whole falls beneath this threshold.  Minority populations are particularly hard hit by these low wages. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), 22.3% of African-American tipped employees and 18% of Latino tipped employees live in families that are below the federal poverty level.

I am pleased that 20 of my colleagues have already joined as original cosponsors of this legislation. I hope that support for the WAGES Act, H.R. 2570, will continue to build momentum in Congress, and more importantly, in communities across the country.  It is critical that this Congress take action that is long overdue to enable tipped employees to earn a fair wage for their work.