Thursday, March 15, 2007

Give the Devil His Due

Damn. Just yesterday I tore into Matt Blunt for his Chief of Staff’s unfounded attack against Jay Nixon on state letterhead, and for his Carbon footprint - which by the way could flatten the Mark Twain National Forest - and then later that very day he went and did something decent.

He gave service workers in this state a raise, over the objections of his own Labor and Industrial Relations Board.

In November, Missouri voters passed a progressive, indexed minimum wage referendum. The Labor Department and the Missouri Restaurant Association took the position that the referendum did not apply to service workers.

Matt Blunt made the right executive decision in this case, and went against his own labor department and the business community in the process. In his statement, Blunt said he ordered the change after his office's legal counsel had studied the issue and disagreed with the Labor Department's ruling.

"The department has an obligation to instruct businesses that hire tipped employees to increase salaries in accordance with the law,'' the governor said.

Blunt's order bumps their pay to a minimum of $3.25 an hour, or half of the state's minimum wage of $6.50 an hour for non-tipped workers. That minimum went into effect Jan. 1 and was mandated by Missouri voters' approval Nov. 7 of Proposition B.
Blunt also dictated the raise be retroactive to 01 January, although the backpay may be difficult to collect.

One head has already rolled over the issue. Cynthia Quetsch, the chief counsel for the Labor Department was fired on Wednesday. Quetsch crafted the departments interpretation of the law, which maintained tipped employees need only be paid the federally mandated minimum of $2.13 per hour.

"This was not a legally defensible interpretation that the department was clinging to for the first 75 days of the year,'' said spokesman Jim Kottmeyer. He cited a provision of state wage law that requires employers to pay an equal amount in damages — in addition to back pay — when they are found to have failed to pay the proper minimum wage.

A Labor Department spokeswoman noted that the state has no enforcement power to order businesses to pay back wages to their tipped employees. As a result, Kottmeyer predicted there may be lawsuits.
Of course there will. Even though the legal fees will quickly outpace what it would cost to pay the back wages.

We all know I’m a math nerd – if a worker has been employed full time since Jan. 1 and worked 40 hours a week, that is 40 dollars per week they are owed for the last 10 weeks. That’s 400 bucks. About what a high-powered attorney costs for one hour. But inexplicably, they will fight the inevitable, because they would rather see it go to attorneys that don’t need it than the servers who do.

Whaddaya bet?

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