May 15, 2024 - News

Ohio restaurant leaders oppose raising minimum wage to $15 an hour

an illustration of a 100 dollar bill on a fork

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Restaurant waitstaff are about to find themselves at the center of a major political fight over Ohio's minimum wage.

Why it matters: With a median wage of $13.79 per hour, food prep and serving jobs are the lowest-paid category of employment in the state, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Driving the news: A ballot initiative aimed at raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has sparked a surprise counter proposal from the GOP that also calls for a $15 minimum wage.

  • The big difference: The ballot initiative includes tipped workers, like waiters. The GOP bill, backed by the state's restaurant industry, doesn't.

Catch up fast: Raise the Wage Ohio, a political action committee, announced in 2022 that it was collecting signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

  • The proposal would raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers starting Jan. 1, 2026. Currently, the state's minimum wage is set at $10.45 for non-tipped workers and $5.25 for tipped workers. It rises gradually each year with inflation.

The latest: Last week, state Sen. Louis Blessing III, R-Colerain Twp., introduced S.B. 256, which he acknowledged was drafted in cooperation with the state restaurant industry and aimed at "fending off" the proposed constitutional amendment, per WEWS-TV.

  • In addition to limiting the minimum wage hike for tipped workers to $7.50, the bill gradually raises the wage until reaching $15 an hour in 2028 two years later than the proposed constitutional amendment.

What they're saying: The Ohio Restaurant and Hospitality Alliance has rolled out a campaign called Protect Tips Ohio that argues the proposal would ultimately reduce income earned by servers and bartenders while driving up menu prices.

The other side: Mariah Ross, who is directing the Raise the Wage Ohio campaign, countered that her organization is not suggesting eliminating tipping — only that servers be paid a minimum of $15 for every hour they work.

  • "What we want is $15 plus tips," Ross tells Axios. "In any world, $15 plus tips is more than $5.25 plus tips."

What's next: Raise the Wage Ohio has to collect over 400,000 valid signatures by early July to make the November ballot.

The big picture: Studies have reached varied conclusions on the impact of eliminating the tipped minimum wage.

  • In D.C., which began phasing it out last year, restaurant employment dropped, but the number of restaurant openings continued to grow, per Marketplace.
  • One server told the news outlet that his wages didn't increase, but his hours became more reliable because managers stopped overstaffing dining rooms.

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