Brandi Ehrhart, a server at Young’s Golden Jersey Inn, says tips are an integral part of her job. Dan Young, owner of Young’s Jersey Dairy, said he doesn’t plan to change how his workers are tipped, even with a new proposed Labor Department rule on the horizon. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff

Should servers give their bosses more control over their tips?

A proposed Department of Labor rule altering how employee tips are controlled and distributed may sound obscure, but the idea has received more than 200,000 public comments and is getting national attention.

The proposed U.S. Labor Department rule change how much control employers have over tips. Under the change, employers could keep tips as long as all their workers are paid at least federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour.

That would be a change from a rule set up in 2011 that let restaurant owners require tipped employees to participate in tip pools only if the pool is shared among other traditionally tipped workers—such as servers, bussers and bartenders. Those employees are considered customer-facing, “front of house” staff.

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Proponents say sharing the tips with “back of the house” staff — like cooks and dishwashers — would address a disparity in pay between tipped and non-tipped employees.

“We think it’s unfair for a busboy who picks up dirty dishes to be able to get tips but for a dishwasher who cleans the dishes not to be allowed to share the tips,” Angelo Amador, an executive with the National Restaurant Association, told the New York Times recently.

But critics protest that nothing in the rule would actually require employers to distribute the tips, as long as all workers are paid at least minimum wage.

Brandi Ehrhart, a server at the Golden Jersey Inn located at Young’s Jersey Dairy is wary of the proposed rule.

Tips aren’t just icing or something extra for someone like Ehrhart. It’s a mainstay in how she makes her living. Weekends and busier days can lead to more lavish tips — so the harder a tipped employee works, the more she or he can earn.

“I’ve been doing this for close to 16 years,” Ehrhart said. “So it’s definitely my salary.”

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At the Golden Jersey Inn, waiters and waitresses don’t simply serve. They bus and clean their own tables, Ehrhart said.

At Young’s, tipped employees keep their tips. But Ehrhart said she has had to work at other places where tips were required to be shared.

“The only part that I don’t like about sharing is, you know, if somebody is not doing their job,” she said. “I am more than OK to share if they’re helping me and doing something. But if not, it doesn’t seem fair.”

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