Stiffed!

State Legislature Slices Waiters’ Minimum-Wage Raise

Queens assemblymember Nolan says she too was disappointed by the cutback, but defends it as "the best possible bill we could get. The Republicans control the senate—and they wanted to freeze the wage. There's a Republican governor. You have all these restaurant owners, especially upstate, complaining that they can't afford it, and it's not like we have anybody comparable we can partner with." (At least one upstate Republican assemblymember voted against the bill—because it gave workers too much.) And, says Nolan, had the assembly not acted, Pataki might have tried to administratively roll back the wage to $2.90, and "I just didn't want to go there."

But labor advocates say the assembly's cutback was unnecessary. "If the assembly had just done nothing, the full increase would have taken effect on April 1," says NYU's Wishnie. "In this case, there was no need for a compromise with Republicans." Lam claims that during his lobbying day, Republican legislators whispered to him that fighting the minimum increase was not high on their agenda. And last week, a spokesperson for the governor told the Timesthat predictions of an administrative rollback were "complete and total nonsense." In any case, argues West Side assemblymember Scott Stringer, who voted against the bill, the assembly should have forced Pataki to play villain. "My rationale is, you put the heat on them to justify gypping some of the absolute lowest wage earners in the state. And besides, you don't promise workers something—and then take their raise away."

Meanwhile, Lam and other activists are vowing to put the heat on Silver. Last Tuesday, a group of about 20 waiters and their allies held an angry picket outside the speaker's lower Broadway district office. Guo Chang Liang, a 56-year-old who said he had worked as a waiter in Chinatown for a dozen years, held up a sign reading "Sheldon Silver, Dog of the Year." His complaints were echoed by Alex, a 33-year-old aspiring actor who works in a "small, hip" Lower East Side restaurant. "I like the fact that I don't have to work five days a week. But waiting tables is really hard work, and I have trouble making a living, period. I feel like the restaurant industry is making a lot of money, and this is bullshit." Lam vowed to hound Silver "until he's gone. This guy sold out restaurant workers, working people. We're in his district, and he sold us out."

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