There’s much to dislike about the institution of tipping in this country. It transfers the responsibility for compensating employees from employers to customers, substantively removes wages from the realm of negotiation, pits employees against each other, encourages acceptance of demeaning and inappropriate behavior towards employees, and provides cover for employers to pay employees below minimum wage. That said, in a perverse variation of the collective action problem, an individual’s choice not to tip, or to tip conservatively, simply punishes the victims all over again without shifting the responsibility for compensation back to the employer. So what can we do? Well, we can start by supporting legal actions like these in Connecticut:

In the suit, filed three weeks ago in New Britain Superior Court, she charges the restaurant did not pay her or other wait staff the minimum wage for time spent performing non-service duties, thereby violating the state’s minimum wage act…”I think people aren’t aware of provisions of the law,” said Daniel S. Blinn, the attorney representing Galberth. “Restaurants have commonly taken advantage of staff by requiring them to do jobs that qualify for minimum wage and staff put up with it,” said Blinn, who has sent letters to dozens of waiters and waitresses in the state notifying them of the possible minimum wage violations. “Either they are afraid to challenge the employer or aren’t aware that they should be receiving minimum wages for the work.” Under the state act, restaurants are allowed to pay 29 percent less than the minimum wage to those who customarily receive gratuities…According to the law, employees such as waiters and waitresses are supposed to receive regular minimum hour wages of $7.10 when they perform duties outside of those associated with waiting on customers. When they do general tasks, such as setting up before a restaurant opens, cleaning after it closes, doing odd jobs such as washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms or mopping floors, the employer is to pay them minimum wage…

Complaints have begun piling up because of a flurry of publicity over some recent complaints against Brinker International, the parent company of such chains as Macaroni Grill, On the Border and Chili’s, and a separate class action suit against the Outback restaurants chain. “I filed after they called me a liar after I showed them how much of my time I was spending on the side work,” said Michael Peruta, a Rocky Hill resident who is part of a class action suit against Outback restaurants. Peruta said he spent more than half of his time as a waiter in the Newington store cleaning tables that were not in his assigned area, sweeping floors and stocking food, all tasks that he believes qualify for the minimum hourly wage.

…Websites on the issue have begun popping up, including one by Rocky Hill resident Rhonda Dupuis, who successfully sued Brinker while she was employed as a waitress by Chili’s. Dupuis documented her work activities from late 2002 to July 2003, records she says proved that she was not properly paid for side work she was forced to do at “tip credit” scale. The increase in complaints has prompted state Sen. Edith Prague to consider new legislation to try to stop violations and get a more active response from the state labor department. “I think it is outrageous that restaurants, especially these big chains, would do this,” said Prague, a Democrat from Columbia, who is meeting with Dupuis this week. “I would suggest legislation that makes it very clear that they can only use the `tip credit’ formula for waiting tables, and nothing else,” Prague said. “I think it’s a shame we have to do this at all, although I’m not surprised at anything anymore.

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