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Speak out now on tip credit law

In January, Governor Cuomo announced plans to examine and possibly eliminate the tip credit, the labor law that allows restaurants to pay tipped employees a minimum wage of $7.50, as opposed to $10.40, with the idea that tips from customers will make up the difference. And they surely do. If tips don't add up to the $10.40 wage, the employer must pay the difference.

This tip credit system has allowed the American restaurant industry to thrive and grow, while keeping menu prices low and incentivizing good service. Tipped employees fare exceptionally well under this system, by far out earning their kitchen counterparts, and often management and owners. They didn't ask for this change.

But the well-funded labor organization ROC United has been whispering in the governor's ear that women who work for tips are harassed, mistreated, and live in poverty, citing data that defies common sense, and conflating tipping with the #MeToo movement.

They also claim that minorities and immigrants are regularly discriminated against by owners, managers, and customers. I suspect, with good reason, that their goal is to ultimately unionize the industry, and abolishing tips is the starting point. But as a Hispanic woman business owner, a mother, and a liberal, I dispute these claims.

These things undoubtedly occur, and there are certainly unethical owners and nasty managers and customers, but to punish my business, and every other honest, hard-working restaurant owner I know, for the crimes and bad behavior of a few, is grossly unfair. We would all be better served if the governor focused the labor department's attention on punishing those who commit these egregious acts.

I own The Gate House Café in Rochester with my husband Michael, and we've been fighting the governor's initiative since February, when Maggie Raczynski, a brilliant bartender from an Outback Steakhouse in the Albany area, formed the Facebook group Supporters of the Tip Credit in NY, now 23,000 people and growing. This groups consists primarily of tipped employees, who are wise enough to be concerned about their livelihoods and angry enough to fight back. Most of them experienced the last hike in 2016, when the wage went from $5.50 to $7.50. This was a brutal hit for the industry, a $2 per hour increase, per tipped employee. Everyone struggled, some didn't make it, and some just barely survived.

The Gate House, even with a booming business, limped through 2016, trying to get those numbers right and absorb that increase without laying off too many people. We're almost fully recovered, but to get there we had to eliminate a daytime bartender, busser, and server, with equal cuts to the dinner shift. We are consistently understaffed, and the customers can feel it, but we are determined to find a way to continue to employ the 50 souls who depend on us for a paycheck.

Today I attempt try to educate the people of Monroe County on the issue, and to plead with my fellow restaurant people to mobilize. The governor's public hearings examining the matter are ending soon; the last one is in Manhattan on June 27th, and written testimony can be submitted on the labor department's website until July 1.

I've been to three hearings, and while I've seen intense pushback from Saratoga Springs, Albany, Syracuse, and Binghamton, Rochester has been oddly silent. Are my peers not concerned? I've seen no local coverage, no opinion pieces, nothing at all from Rochester except a handful of passionate servers and owners driving around the state pleading for mercy at the hearings.

I now ask my fellow restaurant owners and industry people to stand up and be heard. Our time is running out. Complacency isn't going to work, nor is letting others fight the battle for you. We are strength in numbers, and every one of your voices are crucial to our success!

KRISTEN FLORES-FRATTO

Flores-Fratto is co-owner of The Gate House Café in Village Gate

RBTL's theater won't hurt others

I just can't wrap my mind around the mentality of those who oppose a new RBTL venue on the basis that it "may," "might," or "will possibly" affect the smaller arts in a negative way.

I just keep coming back to two words: Boo and Hoo. I mean, seriously. What is it about this city that makes us fight against having really nice things? Is it a collective self-esteem issue that reproduces like lilacs? Something in the Genesee water or beer? A side effect from our garbage (plates), perhaps?

I mean no disrespect to any of the smaller art venues and promotions. But if you can't sustain your own existence without holding back progress, then you're no more than a vanity company and shouldn't be around in the first place. That's simply not the case for many of these groups. Like those, pesky genetically engineered movie dinos, art finds a way. Most of these "endangered" arts programs will be just fine.

And let me be honest. I, and I'm not alone, love the Auditorium Theatre as a building. I just don't love going there to see a show. And there are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, don't go to Blackfriars or Geva or the Downstairs Cabaret. Preventing a beautiful new theatre won't magically make those people start going to any of those places. But not having one will prevent thousands from attending the arts, and that's the real tragedy if this project doesn't come to fruition.

TOM CZARNIAK