Bill ending tipped wage in Illinois advances but prospects uncertain amid pushback

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Karen Conn, president of Conn’s Hospitality Group in Springfield, speaks at a news conference last week at the Capitol. She said she will have to raise prices and cut employees’ hours and benefits if the state eliminates a tipped wage credit. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Cole Longcor)

SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois House committee advanced a measure that would end the state’s subminimum wage for tipped workers amid bipartisan opposition, but the bill’s sponsor said she’d seek further compromise before presenting it for a vote. 

Current Illinois law allows employers to pay their tipped workers 60 percent of the state’s minimum wage. That amounts to $8.40 hourly, compared to the minimum wage of $14 per hour. If their wages plus tips do not equal minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. However, advocates say, employers don’t always do that.

House Bill 5345, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, D-Cicero, would mandate that tipped workers are paid at least minimum wage, not including tips. She said the bill will eliminate “subminimum wage, not tips.” 

Hernandez made her comments during a lengthy hearing last week in a packed committee room filled with advocates on both sides of the issue. She ultimately promised to not bring the bill to a vote in the full House without first negotiating amendments on it, but she also noted one of those changes would better address inequity within the industry and add punitive measures against “bad actors.”

Proponents of the bill said that not all employers follow the law and dependency on tips perpetuates inequalities. A 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute think tank found at that time 66 percent of tipped workers were women and the poverty rate of tipped workers was almost double that of nontipped workers.

“Depending on tips to make a basic living wage is a system that exposes workers to poverty, to inequity and to harassment,” Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said at the committee hearing Wednesday.

While the bill is intended to increase wages for tipped workers and address inequities within the industry, much of the roughly two-hour debate in the committee hearing focused on how the proposal will impact businesses and employees.

At a Capitol news conference earlier Wednesday, a coalition of tipped workers and representatives of the state’s restaurant and retail trade associations shared concerns about the proposal. They claimed the change would drive up prices at restaurants specifically.  


Attendees fill the House Labor and Commerce Committee room

Attendees fill the House Labor and Commerce Committee room last week for a hearing on a bill that would end the state’s subminimum wage for tipped workers. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Andrew Campbell)


Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said increasing the cost of labor will lead to owners reducing staff and increasing prices. Toia said many businesses are still recovering from the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A business that used to be a business of nickels and dimes is now a business of pennies and nickels,” he said. “The proposal would only increase that stress on operators.”

Dominique Juarez, a server at Alexander’s Steakhouse in Peoria, said at the news conference she opposes the elimination of tip credit and that the bill “corners us into a no-win situation.” 

She said that eliminating tip credit could lead to higher menu prices, which would in turn impact her relationship with regular customers, which she described as “the heart of what dining is all about.”

Currently, seven states — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, along with Washington D.C. — have laws in place to guarantee tipped workers make minimum wage.

Chicago enacted similar legislation in October, which phases out the city’s tip credit over five years, culminating with tipped employees receiving minimum wage in 2028. 

“Chicago’s passed this,” Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said Wednesday. “We should wait and see how it plays out over the next five years before rushing into a similar proposal statewide.”

While the measure passed on a 17-11 vote, one of the committee’s 19 Democrats, Rep. Jawaharial Williams of Chicago, voted against it. Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, was recorded as not voting. Democrats, who control the General Assembly, subbed out seven members on the Labor and Commerce Committee before the vote.

Other Democrats spoke out against the measure at the Wednesday news conference. 

That included Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, who said the idea that tipped employees don’t make minimum wage is false, and warned the proposal would have adverse effects.

“This is more legislation chasing a solution to a problem that does not exist,” he said. “Eliminating tip credit is going to hurt the very people that this legislation purports to help.”

Tarver also said that while there may be some “bad actors” who aren’t paying their employees minimum wage, the current law should be enforced rather than eliminating the tip credit.

The One Fair Wage advocacy group, which has for years been pushing for an end to the tipped wage, celebrated the committee vote as a “historic step towards justice.”

“A direct legacy of slavery, the subminimum wage for decades has been used as a tool to force service industry workers, particularly women and people of color, to live in poverty,” Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, said in a news release. 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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