I have worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade; I have called Portland home for eight of those years, raising my 11-year-old daughter here for most of her life. That entire time I have worked as a server at Flatbread Company, a busy and well-established restaurant that has been serving tourists and locals alike since 2000.

In Maine, by one estimate, the median wage for a tipped worker is just $14.84 an hour, and a Maine Center for Economic Policy study has concluded that 1,500 tipped workers in Portland will see a raise if residents vote to raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, File

I appreciate that serving can pay a livable wage at times. I, like many of my colleagues, have certainly enjoyed my fair share of busy shifts and handsome tips. However, this does not paint an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a year-round server in Portland, or the inequity that exists within different servers’ experiences.

I can recall many midweek lunch shifts – the only shifts I could feasibly work as a single mother of a school-aged child – where I left with less than $50 in tips for an entire eight-hour shift. I recall instances where some of my only tables neglected to tip, and the crushing feeling of crying on the walk home, hoping I could scrape together enough money to buy groceries for the week.

That is why I will be voting yes this November on Question D, which will raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour for everyone in Portland, including tipped workers like me.

That said, I understand why some tipped workers may be nervous about voting to require that their employers pay them a minimum wage of $18 an hour. Since 1938, when Congress first established the subminimum wage for tipped workers, these owners and their lobbyists have been spreading the myth that requiring them to pay more means tips will drop or be eliminated. But that’s all it is, a myth.

Seven states have banned the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Guess how many of those states now have no tipping? Zero. California, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada and Oregon have all outlawed the so-called “tip credit,” and those workers, literally tens of millions of them, all still get tips.


In fact, one of the highest tipping states in America – Alaska – and one of the highest tipping cities in America – Denver – both require employers to pay the full minimum wage to their tipped employees.

In fact, a 2021 study by nonprofit One Fair Wage shows not only that tipping still happens, but also that workers in states with no subminimum receive tips that are as good or better than their counterparts in states that still allow employers to pay less than the minimum wage.

What isn’t a myth is the reality that every tipped worker I know faces every winter when rent is due and the barren, snow-laden streets of Portland, devoid of tourists, have left you with barely enough cash to get home.

And while the perspective of one server published in these pages, who wrote that the current subminimum wage works in favor of his bottom line, I argue that the lived experiences of most servers – myself included – reveal quite the opposite.

I expect that is why a poll last year of restaurant workers in Maine showed that 78% supported receiving the full minimum wage, plus tips. And why Portland voted 27,059 to 10,523 to do just that in 2016.

That’s because there is also a myth that most servers make great money. In Maine, by one estimate, the median wage for a tipped worker is just $14.84 an hour. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, if the minimum wage is raised in Portland, some 22,600 workers will see a raise, including 42% of all women workers, 56% of Black workers, 51% of Asian workers, 51% of Indigenous workers, 39% of Latino workers and 100% of about 1,500 workers paid under the tip credit system.


Besides low base wages, working conditions got much worse during the pandemic when tips went down and harassment went up as we were required to enforce COVID-19 protocols on the same customers from whom we had to get tips to survive. Thousands of workers have left or are leaving the industry, and many great restaurants in Maine are now already paying tipped workers a full, livable wage on top of their tips.

No matter the economics, the very notion of tipping instead of being paid a fair wage is infused with the legacies of slavery, servitude and subordination. That legacy is perpetuated today, with women of color disproportionately representing tipped employees.

I love living in our city, and I love my job. Just like the majority of restaurant workers who overwhelmingly support ending the sub-minimum wage, I simply want to be paid a fair day’s wage for a hard day’s work. It’s that simple.

That’s why I will vote yes on Question D to drive up wages for workers in Portland. I think you should, too.

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