On behalf of myself and four other employees at the restaurant Five Fifty-Five (who wish to not have their names made public for fear of its affecting their careers), I’d like to make something very clear: Our boss, Michelle Corry, doesn’t speak for us on the minimum wage (“Maine Voices: Minimum-wage proposal could wipe out margins, put restaurants in peril,” March 22).

There have been many issues at the restaurant, from capricious schedule changes to questionable practices on wages and tips. This latest insult of our boss falsely claiming to speak publicly on our behalf on an issue we care deeply about is just the final straw. We are submitting our notice and will be leaving her employment.

Mainers and Portlanders are proud of our restaurant scene and our food culture, and we should all be standing together to make sure that the people who work hard to keep it going can make ends meet and put food on the table for their own families.

That’s why we support a real minimum-wage increase that includes waiters and waitresses. It will help build a stronger local economy and a stronger restaurant industry, just as similar increases have done across the country.

The referendum on the ballot this November to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 in 2017 and then a dollar a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020 is eminently reasonable. The ballot initiative also includes a desperately needed and long-overdue provision to increase the subminimum wage for workers, like us, who receive tips, from $3.75 to $5 in 2017 and then a dollar a year until it reaches the full minimum wage.

Right now, even working at a Portland-based fine-dining establishment like Five Fifty-Five, our schedules and incomes are inconsistent week to week and season to season. We never know if we’ll make enough to pay the rent or pay for child care.


For many restaurant workers, it’s much worse. The average wage for a server in Maine, including tips, is just $8.72 an hour. Tipped workers are three times more likely to live in poverty than other workers and twice as likely to need to access food stamps.

Most of these workers are women, and relying solely on the whims of their customers for their income also leaves them vulnerable to sexual harassment. We’ve all seen it happen.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There are seven states that have no subminimum wage for tipped workers. Contrary to the hyperbolic predictions of some restaurant owners, those states actually have stronger restaurant sectors and faster growth in restaurant employment than the rest of the country.

Corry points to Seattle as a negative example, but that city, which has no subminimum wage for tipped workers and just increased its minimum wage far higher and far faster than Maine’s referendum would, has seen a restaurant boom.

A recent headline in the Puget Sound Business Journal declared “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the cuts that never came – Seattle’s top chefs are opening new restaurants at a dizzying pace.”

These overwhelmingly positive effects on our local economy are why the minimum-wage referendum has been endorsed by the Maine Small Business Coalition and by hundreds of small-business owners across the state, including many restaurant owners.


Corry’s claim that workers would have to choose between a fair base wage and receiving good tips is similarly false. Rates of tipping are the same or higher in states with one fair minimum wage for all workers.

So why would our boss make these false claims? The most generous interpretation is that she has fallen in with some unfortunate influences and has fallen victim to the same propaganda that she has been spreading.

Corry is vice chair of the Maine Restaurant Association, which, along with its associates at the National Restaurant Association, has fought every single minimum-wage increase that has ever been put forward. They even opposed a one-time, 50-cent increase just last year in Maine.

The National Restaurant Association receives the bulk of its funding for these campaigns from fast food giants and national chain restaurants with business plans premised on paying rock-bottom wages and keeping their workers in poverty.

Their interests aren’t the interests of our state or of our hardworking friends who make Maine’s restaurant scene thrive. It’s time for an investment in our workers, our restaurants and our local economies. It’s time for Maine workers to speak for themselves. It’s time to increase Maine’s minimum wage.

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