Solidarity overturns unfair tip policy at Seattle restaurant

After a nearly month-long unfair labor practices strike, a downtown Seattle restaurant has agreed to end its policy of keeping 60 percent of tips earned by the restaurant’s wait staff.

Two workers at La Lot, a Vietnamese restaurant located in a luxury condominium building, initiated the strike after taking their complaint about their employer’s tip policy to Seattle’s Solidarity Network.

The Solidarity Network mobilized volunteers to support the strikers.

While most patrons assume that the tips earned by their servers are kept by the servers, an increasing number of restaurant owners and managers are keeping a portion of the tips for themselves.

In Seattle, a server named Hien (no last name given) at La Lot decided that it wasn’t fair for her employer to keep a portion of the tips she earned.

When she confronted her employer about its tip policy, she was punished  by having her hours cut.

After her employer retaliated against her, Hien and another La Lot employee contacted the Solidarity Network.

When Hien and Jeff (no last name given), the other La Lot employee, went on an unfair labor practices strike, the Solidarity Network organized more than 50 people to join the two on their picket line.

Some of those picketing went inside the restaurant to pass out flyers about La Lot’s tip policy.

The action caused restaurant management to sit down and talk to Hein, Jeff, and representatives from the Solidarity Network.

But after a while, it became clear that the owners had no intention of changing its policy.

The strike continued for several weeks and began to affect business as more and more customers stayed away.

Finally, on September 1, the Solidarity Network announced that the strike had accomplished its goals.

“La Lot management agreed to all of the demands set forth at the start of the strike,” said a message posted on the network’s website. “All tips are to be distributed to workers, not to bosses.”

Hien also had her hours restored.

Unfortunately, the practice of restaurant owners and managers skimming off a portion of their employees’ tips is on the rise, which has sparked a number of class action lawsuits.

The defendants in these cases aren’t always independent restaurants such as La Lot.

In March 2014, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle a suit charging it with skimming “the tips of its food and beverage service employees at its Kapalua, Maui hotel in Hawaii.”

In 2013, the Four Seasons Hotels settled a class action suit by agreeing to pay $4 million. The plaintiffs charged the hotel chain’s Hawaii hotel  with keeping automatic tips charged to large events such as weddings and parties.

Perhaps the most widely known instance of tip skimming involves Starbucks. A federal appeals court in Massachusetts in 2012 upheld a lower court decision that the Starbucks policy of diverting barista tips to shift supervisors violated the state’s labor laws.

But a more recent ruling by a state court in New York ruled that the policy did not violate New York’s labor laws.

In Seattle, the La Lot workers chose not to rely on the courts to settle their grievance; instead, they relied on the solidarity of other workers.

“We hope this is the start of a trend of organizing large numbers of workers to fight for their rights against their bosses,” said the posting on the Solidarity Network’s website.

 

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