Thursday, July 15, 2010

Battle at the Ol’ Mexico

Tom Emmer held a town hall event yesterday at the Ol' Mexico Restaurante & Cantina in Roseville. The event was billed on Emmer's website as "a town meeting with servers in the hospitality industry to listen to their concerns regarding wages, tips, taxes and health care." Concerns would be the polite way to describe what most of the people at the event felt. Something like "really pissed off" would probably come closer.

By the time I arrived, the Banquet Hall where the "town meeting" was being held in was full, so I took a seat in the restaurant with the rest of the overflow. The event inside was audible through the restaurants audio system. Most of the people in attendance were wearing stickers that claimed "I'm not overpaid," supplied by Alliance for a Better Minnesota. One woman I talked to told me she had worked for Norm Coleman back when he was Mayor of St. Paul and again when he ran for Senate, but she was now questioning if she could vote for Tom Emmer. She was wearing a sticker.

So how did Tom Emmer handle this hostile crowd? As you would expect from Tom Emmer he lied:

What I said last week was this; when I was asked about the tip credit I said absolutely. I was asked next so you're saying reduce the minimum wage, I said we can't do that.

And lied:

I'm more than willing to listen to you and see what you have to say the other thing is I've never proposed, ah, in the past week it was never about a proposal to reduce minimum wage, so we're not even having that discussion.

And lied:

The point is not to cut wages, when you are losing hours, when you're not able to make wages and support your family, when your employer's not getting the business that they need to give you the hours that you need to survive there's a problem.

And lied:

I don't want to see your wages go down, let's not talk about that any longer, what the media has reported is Emmer said he wants to cut your wage, no I don't, I said it again I want to raise your wage.

Throughout the entire event Tom Emmer claimed that he never said he wanted to reduce anyone's wages. The problem for him is that he said he wanted to reduce people's wages. From earlier this week about cutting the minimum wage:

"If somebody is going to pass that through the Legislature, we would absolutely sign it."

So which is it Tom? Do you want to cut the minimum wage or not? What is your actual position, because if anyone learned anything at this event it certainly wasn't what your actual position is.

A theme that Tom Emmer kept coming back to was the idea that by reducing the minimum wage, servers could earn more money. How is this possible? Tom explains:

The minimum wage, I believe if you excel, if you're the best server in the house you should be allowed to make more than the minimum wage and if you're not the best, maybe you're the weakest, you should make a little bit less and be able to work your way up.

Right now, at this very moment employers have the ability to pay their best servers more; the minimum wage doesn't prevent that. But is that what really happens in restaurants? Do the strongest servers get paid more in hourly wage than the weakest? Not usually. If you're a trainer you might get paid more, but this is because while you are training you typically will be taking less tables and making less in tips. In fact, there's already a system in place that rewards good servers, it's called tipping.

I worked as a server in a tip penalty state (Florida) many years ago. I got paid more per hour than most of the other employee's and it wasn't because I was a good server, on the contrary, I was what is known as a weak server. Why did I get paid more per hour than almost everyone else? Because I worked the graveyard shift, didn't get barely any tips and had a ton of side work to do. Most servers got paid $2.13 an hour. I got $3.12. Is that Tom Emmer's idea of climbing the ladder?

One of the servers there who had some words for Tom Emmer was a friend of mine, Ann Potter. Her statement got one of the loudest applauses of the night and part of it was featured in the MPR article about the event. Here's the whole thing:

Hi my name is Ann, I've waited tables for over ten years. I'm absolutely horrified by the statement's I watched you make on film, basically claiming that we don't deserve to make the wages that we do, that it's ridiculous that a server would make $100,000 a year while an owner is making less than that or is having a hard time putting their bills together. My understanding of your statement is the only people who deserve to make six figures are people who own property.

(cheering and applause)

An attack on minimum wage is an attack on the working class. $7.25 is hardly a livable wage. We work so hard, most of us don't have health insurance, most of us don't have 401k's, most of us don't have any kind of financial protection I just am absolutely enraged with what you have to say, I find it to be abhorrent and incredibly irresponsible.

(more cheering and applause)

I think this is a good point and something I've noticed before about Tom Emmer, his lack of respect for working people. This is the same sort of attitude that stiffs a contractor for money on work they have done simply because he determines that he was overcharged and then when the contractor takes him to court he claims ridiculous court fees for himself. The laborer doesn't deserve to get paid the same amount as Tom Emmer the lawyer.

The event ended without an ending. Robert Erickson Nick Espinosa of the group BAM!, Boycott Arizona – Minnesota, went up to the table Tom Emmer was sitting at and dumped a sack full of pennies down in front of him. Another member of BAM! had a statement to make:

BAM! dropped the pennies because you support S.B. 1070 and the irony is not lost on us that you're in a Mexican restaurant in support of a law that's assaulting that community, so until you speak out against S.B. 1070 we will not listen to anything you say. And you need to stop lying, the tip credit is a penalty, we all know it, stop lying.

(cheering and applause)

That was it. Apparently the microphone wasn't working in the Banquet Hall anymore, even though everyone out in the restaurant could hear it just fine; the only explanation I can think of as to why this would happen is that the amplifier for the Banquet hall went down, either it got shut off or shut itself off. Either way Tom Emmer went out the back door and the servers out the front with the media waiting for both.

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