Kate Conroy, ROC-RI member, speaks at a press conference before the bill’s hearing. 

Last week on Thursday, Rhode Island held the first public hearing for its ‘One Fair Wage’ bill (H 5364) which would raise the state’s tipped minimum wage of $2.89 — the lowest rate in all of New England — to 100% of the full minimum wage of $9.00 an hour by 2020.

“The sub-minimum wage is not a minimum wage, it’s a poverty wage,” said Kate Conroy, ROC-RI member pictured above, was one of several tipped workers and supporters that testified in support of getting rid of the tipped minimum wage. “It’s time for the free labor subsidy for restaurants to end. Restaurant workers have bore the brunt of the worst that the industry has to offer, and it’s time for this to end. The corporate restaurant turnout today is telling of how nepotistic and hostile this industry can be. Their concern is not for workers or their families or even a just society; they’re strictly here to protect their ever growing bottom line. And that’s just wrong. No one can survive off $2.89.”

Ricky Mercado, current server and ROC United member also spoke at the press conference and hearing, stating, “Getting paid $2.89 an hour is a joke. It’s a joke that we work so hard to put food on people’s tables, and this is what our employer thinks we’re worth. Even if the minimum wage was $5 an hour, that’s still absolutely nothing. Making the full minimum wage would mean that I could make ends meet.”

Nearly 70% of Rhode Island’s tipped workers are women; the vast majority work in the restaurant industry and are nearly twice as likely as other workers in the state to live in poverty.

Just weeks ago, New York State announced a 50% increase to its tipped minimum wage, raising it from $5.00 an hour to $7.50 by the end of this year. Additionally, there are five other states on the East Coast that are advancing legislation that would eliminate the lower, tipped minimum wage. Seven states across the country have completely eliminated their sub-minimum wage.

Representative Aaron Regunberg introduced the bill that would gradually increase the the minimum wage from $2.89 to match the regular minimum wage by 2020. Senator Gayle Goldin introduced matching legislation on the Senate side. There has been no increase in the tipped minimum wage in nearly 20 years.

Footage of the hearing can be found here.