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Will Biden COVID stimulus plan hurt tipped workers?

Little-noticed provision would eliminate ‘tipped wage’ system

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tipped workers, gay news, Washington Blade
A little-noticed provision in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package would end the tipped wage system in the nation’s restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

Joshua Chaisson, the gay founder and leader of the Restaurant Workers of America, a national nonprofit group that advocates for employees of dining, drinking, and entertainment establishments, is urging LGBTQ rights advocates to join efforts to oppose a little-noticed provision in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package that would end the “tipped wage” system in the nation’s restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

The provision to end the tipped wage system is attached to the president’s widely publicized proposal in his stimulus package to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over a phased in period. The U.S. House was expected to vote on the Biden stimulus proposal next week.

Democratic members of Congress, meanwhile, introduced a free-standing bill in January, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage and the elimination of the tipped wage system.

While Chaisson, many LGBTQ tipped workers, and LGBTQ nightlife businesses argue that ending the tipped wage system would have a negative impact on those businesses and LGBTQ tipped workers, eight of the 11 LGBTQ members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act, which would end the tipped wage system.

And Pride at Work, the LGBTQ division at the AFO-CIO, the nation’s largest organized labor group, “adamantly opposes” the tipped wage system and strongly supports the Raise the Wage Act, according to its executive director Jerame Davis.

The tipped wage system, also known as the tip credit, is currently in effect in 43 states and D.C. It allows restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses employing tipped workers to pay those workers a lower hourly wage if the tipped workers earn the equivalent of or a greater amount than the full minimum wage in their respective states and D.C. in tips combined with the lower wage.

If the workers’ earnings fall short of the full minimum wage, the employer is required by state and federal law to make up the difference. The National Restaurant Association has said restaurants and bars historically have operated in a highly competitive market with a small profit margin, making it necessary to keep their labor costs lower than other businesses.

Sean Kennedy, the association’s executive vice president for public affairs, told the Washington Blade that studies have shown the average tipped worker makes between $19 and $25 an hour. But Kennedy said the COVID pandemic has created a severe hardship for everyone in the restaurant and bar business during the past year. He said the elimination of the tipped wage system at this time would be “devastating” for restaurants and the average bar and grill.

“Over 110,000 restaurants nationwide have shut down since the pandemic started,” he said. “When you combine the restaurants that remain open and the ones that have closed – they have laid off two and a half million workers,” Kennedy said in connection with the pandemic. He said ending the tipped wage system would result in more layoffs by restaurants struggling to survive.

Chaisson said ending the tipped wage system would impact the LGBTQ community because, based on his observations, LGBTQ people work in the hospitality industry, including restaurants and bars, in far greater numbers than their percentage in the general population.

“There is a huge swath of the LGBTQ community that is represented in the hospitality industry,” he said. In addition to the industry in general, Chaisson said “overtly LGBTQ spaces” like gay bars and nightclubs also employ large numbers of LGBTQ people and provide historically supportive places for LGBTQ people to meet and socialize as patrons.

Gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, the director of the nightlife hospitality trade association D.C. Nightlife Council before being furloughed due to the pandemic, said virtually all of D.C.’s gay bars and LGBTQ-friendly nightlife venues operate under the tipped wage system.

“Yes, bartenders and servers at ALL of D.C.’s local LGBTQ venues benefit from the tip-wage system and employer tip credit, which workers strongly support,” Lee said in a statement to the Blade. He said that in the “highly unlikely incidence” that their earnings do not exceed the D.C. minimum wage of $15 per hour, the local tipped workers are “guaranteed” the full minimum wage by the employer.

Chaisson and Lee also point out that LGBTQ tipped workers played an active role in D.C. and Maine in opposing ballot measures calling for ending the tipped wage system. In D.C., a ballot measure was approved by voters in June 2018 by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin calling for ending the tipped wage system in the District. But to the dismay of labor activists, the D.C. Council four months later voted to overturn the initiative under its authority to do so.

Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who supported the Council’s decision to overturn the initiative, said they were persuaded to oppose the initiative by what they called a groundswell of opposition by tipped workers who called on them to overturn the measure.

Chaisson, who is from Maine, played a lead role in persuading the Maine Legislature to overturn a similar ballot measure passed by voters to eliminate the tipped wage system. News media reports from Maine said tipped workers told lawmakers that their earnings dropped dramatically during the period when the ban on the tipped wage took effect prior to its repeal by the legislature.

Davis, a longtime LGBTQ rights advocate who heads the AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work, has joined other organized labor activists in disputing claims that eliminating the tipped wage system will hurt tipped workers, including LGBTQ tipped workers.

“Workers dependent on tips face all sorts of terrible choices when their wage depends so much on the kindness of each customer,” he told the Blade in statement. “Sexual harassment, discrimination, racism, sexism and more can feel like it’s just part of the job when your wage is determined by how much the customer likes you,” he said.

Davis and other labor activists who oppose the tipped wage system also argue that the requirement that the employer must pay the full minimum wage if the tips fall short of that is not well enforced or followed. According to Davis, some employers have contested claims by servers that they did not make the equivalent of the minimum wage, placing servers in the uncomfortable position of challenging their employers or accepting the lower wage.

Davis said he also disputes claims that restaurants and bars have been “decimated” in the seven states that have eliminated the tipped minimum wage.

“I haven’t heard of any state where bars and restaurants have collapsed due to paying their workers fairly,” he said. “Where is the evidence of this assertion?”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of the record number of nine openly gay or lesbian House members elected or re-elected last November, told the Blade in a statement that restaurant sales were “booming” in California prior to the pandemic. California is among the states that eliminated the tipped wage system more than 10 years ago.

Takano said he would not support a proposal by the Restaurant Workers of America to remove the provision to eliminate the tipped wage system from the Raise the Wage Act.

In addition to Takano, the other gay or lesbian House members who are co-sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act are Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), and Richie Torres (D-N.Y.).

Lesbian Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and gay Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) have not signed on as co-sponsors for the Raise the Wage Act.

Lesbian U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is a co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act while Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who identifies as bisexual, did not sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a written question from the Washington Blade asking whether President Biden was aware of concerns raised about eliminating the tipped wage system by tipped workers.

Chaisson of Restaurant Workers of America disputes claims by labor officials such as Davis that many restaurant or bar operators fail to make up the difference if a tipped worker doesn’t make the full minimum wage through tips or that tipped workers are subjected to sexual harassment.

He said with tipped workers guaranteed by law to receive at least the full minimum wage, he believes the continued efforts by labor leaders to eliminate the tipped wage system is based, at least in part, on a motive to unionize the restaurant industry, including the thousands of small, community-based and often family-owned restaurants and bars.

“As a proud Democrat all my voting life, I certainly understand and respect the need for organized labor in certain situations,” Chaisson said. “That said, the No. 1 no-no for any union is pay for performance. And pay for performance is our entire job description as tipped workers,” he said.

As a tipped worker himself, Chaisson said those who work in the bar and restaurant business as tipped workers often compare themselves to those who work in sales and who are paid by commission based on how much they sell a product or service.

“Being a tipped worker allows us to be the commissioned-based salespeople that we consider ourselves to be,” he said. “And while their base wage may be the same, the tips in the tipped worker’s pocket greatly depends on their performance and their ability to assure their guests the best possible service.”

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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