One of the most powerful moments of my 15 years in chamber life happened in 2017 at the State House when literally hundreds of servers and bartenders testified past midnight for a committee hearing that began that morning to try and save their way of life. That 14-hour hearing was the culmination of an 11-month battle over the tip credit for Maine’s tipped employees — the tip credit had been ripped away at the ballot box and they were trying to reinstate it.

Moody’s Diner closed for the day so their staff could testify. A man from Calais patiently waited until after 10 p.m. to give his testimony. The last testimony was given just before 1 a.m., and in total, over 135 people testified in favor of reinstating the tip credit, at least 100 more submitted testimony and those in favor of keeping the tip credit eliminated was a paltry 10-14 people. The servers succeeded in reinstating the tip credit, and many legislators still refer to it as one of the longest, if not the longest, public meetings in State House history.

But they shouldn’t have had to fight that hard. The tip credit elimination happened because the tip credit got tied to a broader minimum wage increase on the 2016 ballot. For the five months leading up to it, servers and bartenders pleaded with family, friends and customers to vote no to save their tip credit, but most people said, “Sorry, but we really want to raise the minimum wage for everyone, so your tip credit has to get eliminated.” And so on the November ballot the tip credit was eliminated.

Quick side note: The question in 2016 never should have been tied together. There were actually three parts to the question:

• A raise to Maine’s minimum wage to $12 over 3.5 years.
• Elimination of the tip credit immediately.
• Annual cost-of-living increases after the minimum wage gets to $12.

That’s three separate policies and should have been voted on separately, but you could only vote in favor of all or against all — yes or no. The proponents who wrote the ballot initiative did this intentionally, because polling showed that a minimum wage increase to $12 was popular enough that it may carry the other two less popular parts. They packed the question together knowing the other two pieces likely wouldn’t pass on their own. The secretary of state presented the question as it had been presented on the ballot petitions rather than breaking it into three questions. The proponents were quite happy with that.


To illustrate that, imagine for a moment how the CMP corridor question this past fall may have been different if two other policies were added to it. Let’s say approval of the corridor was part one of the question; and part two was $100 million in grants to Maine tourism businesses/employees affected by the corridor; and part three was all Maine CMP rate payers get no electricity bills for six months. Would no CMP bill for six months changed the corridor’s outcome? Maybe. Remember this part; we will come back to it.

So why am I bringing this all up again? Because Portland voters will get to vote this November on whether to eliminate the tip credit for tipped employees in Portland. Now it’s not typical for the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber director to comment on issues that have come before the Portland City Council. I typically keep to my region of the state. However, political issues in Maine have a strange way of starting at the Portland City Council then pervasively expanding through other Maine communities or to the State House.

Let me be crystal clear: Eliminating the tip credit would be unquestionably disastrous for restaurants, bars and taverns. You know who got really hurt during the pandemic? The hospitality industry workers. You know who doesn’t want another sweeping change in their industry right now? The hospitality industry workers.

They. Do. Not. Want. This.

Ask them. Ask a bartender you know. Ask a server. If they have been in the industry for more than two years, they will tell you they don’t want the tip credit eliminated. An industry publication, Upserve, did a survey a few years ago and asked 1,000 tipped employees their preferred payment method, and 97% said the tipped system they have now with the tip credit.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at Restaurant Workers of America, a nationwide restaurant employee group founded here in Maine in 2017 that helps servers fight tip credit elimination in Seattle, Minnesota, Washington, D.C. Or look at to get more facts and see them poke holes in the arguments that proponents of tipped wage elimination make.

I will write more about this later this fall, because it is so important to the hospitality industry, so if you don’t even know what the tip credit is, trust me, I will explain it. It was actually a conscious choice not to describe it yet to make this point. More important than you understanding the tip credit should be that the people who are the tipped workers in bars and restaurants love the tip credit and want to keep it. Before you analyze it for yourself and decide if you think it is right for them, maybe we need to take the word of the tipped employees themselves and assume they know what is best for themselves. Ninety-seven percent want to keep it — what are we doing if we are making policy that only 3% of the industry wants?

This ballot initiative is a bad idea, and it needs to be shot down before it gets too far. Oh, and one final point: The tip credit elimination Portland voters will be considering is not a stand-alone vote. Proponents tied it to a Portland minimum wage increase to $18, plus cost-of-living after that, so you have to vote all in or all out. Where have I heard that before?

Cory King is the executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber.

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