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WILLIAMS: Big Labor’s attack on tipping

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 file photo, a cashier rings up a sale at a Sears store, in Las Vegas. U.S. business economists have sharply cut their growth forecasts for the April-June quarter and 2014, though they remain optimistic that the economy will rebound from a dismal first quarter. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 file photo, a cashier rings up a sale at a Sears store, in Las Vegas. U.S. business economists have sharply cut their growth forecasts for the April-June quarter and 2014, though they remain optimistic that the economy will rebound from a dismal first quarter. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
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The practice of tipping – especially popular in the United States – has a new and formidable enemy. Inexplicable as it may seem, Big Labor has set its sights on the custom of tipping – an institution that has helped move millions of workers into the middle class. But there's good reason why activists like Saru Jayaraman, one of the labor leaders attempting to end the practice of showing gratitude to service industry workers, have targeted a practice that most of us take for granted.

Ms. Jayaraman is co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U), a union front group known for both its hostile protests against restaurants and its aggressive lobbying for Big Labor's agenda. While most restaurant workers favor tips, Ms. Jayaraman dismisses the notion of pay for performance. In an interview with the University of California, Berkeley's alumni magazine, she said: "Ultimately, this system of tipping needs to go."

She has repeated that position several times, peppering her arguments with inflammatory rhetoric. As reported in the Seattle Times, Jayaraman labeled tips as "institutionalized sexism" before saying "the best option ... is to eliminate tips." The reporter covering the event compared Jayaraman to America's premier socialist – Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant – whose position on most issues falls somewhere between Marx and Lenin.

Ms. Sawant is another labor leader crusading to end tips, saying: "We don't want any worker to be beholden to the mood of the customer on any given day." For Ms. Jayaraman,  Ms. Sawant and other activists, eliminating tips would justify their efforts to drastically increase the minimum wage. Seattle, of course, recently approved a $15 minimum wage – a surefire way to kill jobs and close businesses already strained by a litany of government mandates.

Apart from the fact that they're based on performance, labor's big problem with tips seems to be that they don't see it as real money. Perhaps this comes from the difficulty unions foresee in collecting membership dues from tipped workers. The traditional method of extracting regular dues from workers' paychecks doesn't really work when the employees already have their cash in hand.

Regardless of their reasons, labor activists seem detached from the concept of real money earned for real work. Speaking on a Ford Foundation panel,  Ms. Jayaraman claimed: "No portion of anybody's income should be tips because tips are not wages." (Note: ROC-U has received more than $2 million from the Ford Foundation to advance the labor agenda.) Of course, no one ever expected faculty lounge activists to have a firm grasp on how actual workers leverage tips to move up the economic ladder. (Ms. Jayaraman runs Berkeley's Food Labor Research Center, and previously taught at City University of New York; Ms. Sawant is a part-time professor at a Seattle community college.)

Not surprisingly, actual bartenders and servers are pushing back against this nonsense. They know better than anyone else that tips are income that allows them to exceed what they would earn with a flat hourly wage. Businessweek reports servers and bartenders in Seattle have launched a group called "Tips Are Wages" to educate lawmakers and the public, who have been hearing only from union-aligned activists. The spokesman for the group, who makes about $45 per hour in tips on weekends, told the Seattle Times, "I work for my tips, not my minimum wage."

Restaurants, of course, are free to eliminate tipping. Instances of this have been so rare that when it happens it makes national headlines. The current system works for restaurants, servers and customers. It works for everyone, in fact, but labor bosses. Through "Tips Are Wages" and other efforts, restaurant workers are reminding us that like so many other campaigns, the union war on tips is designed to promote the interests of labor leaders, not the interests of workers.

Ryan Williams is an adviser to Worker Center Watch, an organization dedicated to exposing corruption. He formerly served as a spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney and John Sununu.

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