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Brown blasts ‘tip pooling’ proposal

Senator says move amounts to “wage theft” of wait staff and others in service industries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, spoke out on Wednesday about a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor that he said would force workers to hand over tips to employers.

The administration of Donald Trump announced in December that it would end regulations prohibiting “tip pooling,” which allows restaurants and other establishments to distribute tips to multiple workers, as they see fit.

Brown said the move would amount to “wage theft” and said there is nothing in the proposal, which would prevent employers from simply keeping the tips for themselves.

The senator was joined on a conference call with reporters by Crystal Hale, a waitress at Denny’s in Hubbard, Ohio.

“The new rule under this administration threatens the tips that she earns,” Brown said. “Tips belong to the workers who earn them. Period. We need laws that reflect that, and that reward work.”

Brown said there is no date on when the proposal would take effect and that it first must go through a public comment period.

He said he was not optimistic about the adminsitration considering public input, citing a review of the rule, which he said was tossed by the Labor department after results were found unfavorable to the proposal.

Brown said he has been joined by 23 colleagues in the Senate in sending a letter to U.S. Sec. of Labor Alexander Acosta, in which they expressed concern that evidence was being concealed from the public.

He said, under the proposed rule, employers can keep tips that workers earn, as long as all workers are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Hale, who said she has worked as a server for four years, told reporters that she needs her tips in order to get by, along with her husband’s income, as the couple raises a son.

“His income helps us to pay bills, but we still rely on my own check to make ends meet,” she said.

Hale said she earns $4.15 an hour from her employer and makes up the rest in tips.

Brown was asked about the argument from advocates of the proposal that tip pooling would guarantee the benefits are distributed to workers at both the front and back of the house at restaurants.

“To take her tip and give it to the people in the kitchen, it’s wage theft,” Brown said, adding that employers should pay those in the kitchen “a living wage” in the first place.

Brown said the move stands in contrast to Trump’s message on the campaign trail in 2016, in which he pledged to address working class concerns.

“The president pledged to look out for working families,” he said. “And this is an attack on all workers.”

Hale said she has, in the past at her choosing, passed tips to cooks, dishwashers and others in the kitchen.

“However, for them to take my tip, without me having any say — I work my butt off for my tips,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right to take my tips and put my family in jeopardy.”

She also expressed her frustration at the idea of employers and managers keeping the tips.

“They don’t have to deal with what I deal with to make money,” Hale said.

Brown called the move “mean spirited” and said lawmakers, who he pointed out are wealthy and receive good benefits, are out of touch with those affected by the move.

“To do something like this to workers is just reprehensible,” Brown said. “When you go to a restaurant and tip, you expect the person waiting on your table to get the money.”

Following the discussion with Hale, Brown was asked about the current debate over gun control, following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this month.

Brown said the debate is shifting, largely in part because of the involvement of teenagers and younger people in recent weeks.

“They’re going up to lawmakers and asking them ‘How much did you get from the NRA?’” he said, stating that those with ties to gun lobbyists are “getting worried.”

Brown said the issue could best be addressed by requiring background checks, restoring a ban on assault weapons and keeping those on a terrorist watch list from being able to purchase guns.

Brown was also asked about the proposal by Trump to train and arm teachers.

“I think that’s ludicrous,” the senator said of the idea.

He said any changes to gun laws would face a tough fight.

“The gun lobby is so powerful that members of Congress, being invertebrates that some are, won’t stand up to them,” Brown said.