Manpower-strapped Portland restaurants pledge higher wages and better terms

A handful of Portland-area restaurants have embarked on a nationwide campaign for fair wages, diversity and safe working conditions in the industry as hotel companies across the state fight to attract workers to a tight labor market.

RAISE: High Road Restaurants, a national association of business owners, joined Ruby’s West End, Bao Bao Dumpling House, Central Provisions, Chaval and Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, all in Portland, and Magnus on Water in Biddeford, for a hiring event and a press conference Thursday to describe their efforts to improve jobs prone to exploitation, harassment and low pay.

“The era of cooking and serving work as ‘less than’ is over,” said Corrinna Stum, owner of Ruby’s. “It’s a good steady job. You can live on it. It’s a job. “

The key to the wage problem for these restaurants is to end the pay below the “tip”. Under Maine law, employers are allowed to pay service workers half the state’s minimum hourly wage as long as the tips at least make up the difference. It’s about $ 6 an hour plus tips.

Instead, the six restaurants pledged to pay all their staff at least the state’s minimum wage of $ 12.15 an hour plus tips, along with health care, better work environments. and paid sick leave.

The food and beverage industry lost more jobs than almost any other during the pandemic. Getting those workers to come back, attracting new employees and keeping them means changing the way the industry has operated in the past, said Mikey Knab, restaurant owner and director of national strategy for High Road Restaurants. The association works in concert with One Fair Wage, a national movement to end lower wages.

West Coast restaurateur and advocate Mikey Knab speaks to the media Thursday in Portland. Restaurant owners have come together to talk about the higher wages they are offering in response to a workforce crisis in the industry. Derek davis/ Personal photographer Buy this photo

“It’s not a shortage of workers, it’s a shortage of wages,” Knab said. “We have to convince people that these jobs are worth returning. We believe that means eliminating pay less than tip. “

In a recent national survey of 2,800 food service workers, more than half said they were considering quitting their jobs. Of those considering leaving, 76 percent cited low wages and tips as the reason.

Seven states, including California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, no longer have peak salaries and have historically seen strong restaurant growth, Knab said.

“Tips don’t go away when you eliminate the below minimum wage,” he said.

Premium wage in Maine was eliminated in 2016 when voters passed increases to the minimum wage in a referendum. It was reinstated by the Legislature less than a year later after lobbying from business owners and some workers.

The push to improve wages and working conditions comes as Maine employers offer wages $ 2-3 above minimum wage and suspend login bonuses and benefits to compete in a tight labor market.

The hiring problems had a huge impact on Bao Bao Dumpling House, the Portland restaurant owned by Cara Stadler. She is already offering a full salary with tips, but without kitchen workers, she cannot return to pre-pandemic normal.

Bao Bao is only open five days a week and only for dinner. Tao Yaun, Stadler’s Brunswick restaurant, will only be open two days a week.

“I could double my squad, it’s easy,” she said.

Even as wages rise in historically low-paying jobs, efforts to improve conditions should still resonate with workers, employers and customers, Knab said.

“If you care about whether the chicken on your plate is organic, you should care about your server getting a living wage,” he said.

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Sandy A. Greer

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