by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Alex Adrianson highlights for the Heritage Foundation’s “Insider Online” blog a disturbing development in Washington state.
When restaurants attach a “minimum wage surcharge” to customers’ bills, they are obviously trying to communicate with their clientele about the consequences of a higher minimum wage policy. On its face, that would seem to be political speech that deserves the protection of the First Amendment. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sees it differently. A number of Seattle restaurants have responded to the city’s $15 minimum wage by adding such surcharges to customers’ bills. In response, Ferguson has issued rules governing the practice. Erin Shannon notes some problems with these rules:
The Attorney General’s rule creates a record-keeping nightmare for employers, who would be forced to make ongoing calculations to determine whether their surcharge is generating any revenue beyond the cost of the increased wages and if so, ensure every extra penny is distributed to employees.
AG Ferguson cites RCW 49.46.160, which governs “automatic service charges,” to support this guideline. But a surcharge to offset the costs of paying all workers a higher minimum wage is not the same as a service charge that is added for specific services performed by an individual employee or employees.
According to the RCW, a “service charge” is “a separately designated amount collected by employers from customers that is for services provided by employees…” The law further clarifies that “service charges are in addition to hourly wages paid or payable to the employee or employees serving the customer.”
A minimum wage surcharge is not for the specific services provided to a customer by an employee or employees, nor is it in addition to the hourly wages paid to workers. It simply helps offset the extra cost imposed by the government’s own $15 wage law.