You live, you learn.
After eight and a half years of covering the journalistic geography in this town, some of the basic contours are as well-known as my bike ride to work; Lori Sturdevant will be a dozey DFL hack; Nick Coleman will be a thud-witted and utterly predictable DFL hack; Brian Lambert will be a rapier-witted but peek-a-boo DFL hack.
It’s rare that there’s anything new to cover.
And to be fair, the Strib’s John Tevlin isn’t exactly “new”; to be fairer, most of us who’ve been blogging for a while have sort of gotten numb to the Strib’s columnist’s row; we’re like drug addicts who need more and more of our chosen drug to even get a buzz.
Fortunately (?), the latest Tevlin column is dumb enough to crack the silt-like coating of ennui that chokes me whenever I try to read the Strib’s opinion pages.
When I read in Tuesday’s paper that Tom Emmer, the GOP-endorsed candidate for governor, claimed that three servers at the Eagle Street Grill in St. Paul “take home over $100,000 a year,” I high-tailed it over to the restaurant to get a piece of the action.
Reporter races to cover a story in a bar? Flea bites dog as it bites man.
Emmer chose Eagle Street for a campaign stop to argue that the state should drop minimum wages for workers who earn tips, which he claims would help small businesses.
I wasn’t the first one in the door, but I was close. A guy with “Kevin” stitched on his shirt waited on me.
“Can I have an application for one of those $100,000 jobs?” I asked. Kevin looked like I’d just done a dine-and-dash on him, and I sensed it had not been a good day on Eagle Street.
I’m interested in the reaction the left in the Twin Cities – the DFL, the various echelons of leftybloggers at their command, and the Strib – have had to Emmer’s suggestion that the hospitality industry might benefit, and create more jobs, by returning to the same exact law Minnesota observed until 1990 – allowing restaurants and bars to pay less than minimum wage, because food servers can be expected to make more, sometimes much more, in tips; as Emmer noted, sometimes much, much more.
The reaction: “What? Every waiter and waitress will make $100,000? Waiting tables pays better than being a low-level Java programmer?”, every one of them seems to find it amusing to ask in mawkishly mock amusement.
I sometimes wish they’d turn that keen sense of, um, humor to some of the other, more-carefully-focus-grouped claims that candidates put out there:
“Haha, Mark Dayton – so when we “tax the rich“, our whole five billion dollar deficit will vanish, right? Poof, gone, ancient history? Cool!”
“So, Matt Entenza – if we put just another two billion dollars into our education system, that will prevent one single more Afro-American kid from being shunted onto the “fail track”? Just another two billion? OK – so for ten billion, can we get every single kid in the Minneapolis school system into Yale?”
“Margaret Anderson-Kelliher – if we spend more money on “stimulus” work for the public employees unions…” – OK. Sorry. I can’t even get sarcastic about that anymore.
One thing I can get sarcastic about still is the contempt Jon Tevlin feels for working people:
Yeah, I said “contempt”.
“I’m a columnist at the newspaper across the river, and I could use a pay upgrade,” I said. “When can I start?”
I came prepared for a job interview, just in case. Even though I had no experience waiting tables, as a columnist I have plenty of experience being insulted by drunks late at night. I did tend bar for about three weeks at a place called the Goosetown Lounge, in New Ulm, to augment my paltry salary as a cub reporter, and I am known to mix a pretty good margarita.
A good waiter or bartender can take years to not only learn the tricks that separate the great from the OK – including the greatest trick of all, getting a job at a place where people spend lots of money and tip really really well. I’m not sure if Jon Tevlin thinks that the waiters at, say, Manny’s – people who earn $200 tips on tables that run up $1,000 tabs – are the “cub reporters” of the food service business, or if he thinks he could impress one of the staff at the Saint Paul Grill with his bartending tales.
But in waiting, as with just about every other trade – carpentry, user experience design, medicine, plumbing, running a checkout station or a bookstore, the law – it takes years of experience to rise to the top of the trade.
Looking at the likes of Frank Rich, Mo Dowd, Lori Sturdevant and Jon Tevlin, it’d seem that journalism is the exception to the rule.
The owners said they have loyal employees who earn a good living, but that the tip credit change would save them more than $30,000.
One longtime bartender familiar with Eagle Street said that based on prices and clientele, he’d be surprised if anyone who relies on tips at Eagle Street makes much more than $50,000.
So a worker who makes, by any measure, a modest but potentially-comfortable living from a job that requires no formal education or training, and who literally won’t notice the “cut” in the minimum wage, is offset by the fact that, I suppose, not every waitress is making $100K…or…huh?
Wade Luneburg, secretary-treasurer for Local 17 UNITE HERE, said such a cut would hurt many workers who barely get by.
Some servers and bartenders earn a decent living, he said, “but if you are talking about someone at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Slayton, they are usually women making very little in tips who have no health insurance,” said Luneburg.
With the likes of Jon Tevlin and Wade Luneburg, it’s always the stupid extremes; waitstaff either make more than registered nurses, or they are one step below crack whores.
“What Representative Emmer is saying is really reprehensible.”
Well, no. Tevlin and Luneburg are being reprehensible; they’re doing their best to hop up and down and heap ignorant mockery on a statement that was, at the end of the day, perfectly correct; waiters who are making $25-50K a year won’t notice the money they lose to the tip credit; the woman at the Whistle Stop in Slayton might just have more options when the Whistle Stop’s competition can afford to hire another waitress (and maybe someone can teach out of state Minnesotans that a quarter is not a suitable tip for a $20 ticket. Just saying). Or maybe not. There are no guarantees…
…except one; raising minimum wages cuts the number of entry-level jobs.
By noon, the owners had already fielded numerous angry calls. In fact, Geisen said, “lobbyists” who set up the Emmer appearance were on their way down to smooth things over and correct his quote, something that seems to be a full-time job these days.
Sort of like correcting Nick Coleman used to be.
Geisen ran off to fight another fire, and I had to feel for the guy. So I threw down another buck.
“That’s for Tom Emmer,” I said.
I was just trying to do my part, the poor giving back just a little bit to help out the rich.
The bad news? The Strib just keeps getting dumber.
The good news? The DFL must be really desperate to be spending this much effort courting the “waitress at a crappy 3:2 bar” vote, and courting them this badly.