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Restaurant Association appears to be behind ‘Save Our Tips’ advocacy group

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Restaurant Association appears to be behind ‘Save Our Tips’ advocacy group

Apr 02, 2024 | 7:26 pm ET
By Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
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Restaurant Association appears to be behind ‘Save Our Tips’ advocacy group
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Photo via Getty Images

The Arizona Restaurant Association appears to be behind an organization that is advocating against raising the minimum wage, as well as promoting a Republican measure that would ask voters to let businesses pay employees who work for tips 25% less than minimum wage. 

The legislation would amend the Arizona Constitution to include language that would allow business owners to cut the pay of their tipped employees. 

The strike-everything amendment to Senate Concurrent Resolution 1040 passed out of the House Commerce Committee along party lines last month. Those who spoke in favor of the measure said it is in direct response to a ballot initiative currently gathering signatures that would increase the minimum wage for all workers to $18 an hour. 

Under current Arizona law, businesses can pay tipped workers $3 less than minimum wage. If the proposed constitutional amendment were in place today, businesses could pay workers $3.58 less than the current minimum wage of $14.35. 

The legislation, known as the “Tipped Workers Protection Act,” is backed by restaurant owners and other business groups. 

During a House Commerce Committee hearing on the bill last month, a group of people wearing green “Save Our Tips” shirts spoke in favor of the resolution. But the Arizona Mirror has learned that those who spoke in favor have connections to the ARA, which they did not reveal to the committee. 

A political action committee named “Save Our Tips Az” registered with the state approximately two weeks prior to the committee hearing; its chairman and treasurer are the president and chief operating officer of the ARA. A website for “Save Our Tips AZ” does not mention any connections to the ARA.

A request for comment from the ARA was not returned. 

Beth Cochran, the vice president of Snooze Eatery, spoke before the committee but did not disclose that she is a board member of the ARA. Two other people who spoke before the committee wearing “Save Our Tips” shirts work in upper management at their respective restaurants, which are owned by members of the ARA board. Cochran did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. 

Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, who sits on the committee said Tuesday on the House floor that she felt “bamboozled” by the group when she learned that Cochran was a member of the ARA board.

Organizations with the same name have appeared in other states that have had similar ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. 

Advocates of the measure pointed to Washington, D.C., as an example of how a change in minimum wage could impact restaurants. In 2022, the district passed a measure that guaranteed tipped workers the minimum wage. 

The area saw an astroturfed campaign against the change led by a conservative group that pushed op-eds and quotes — often from local servers — to mainstream media outlets. The campaign also used the name “Save Our Tips.” Restaurants in the area also began adding surcharges related to the increase, despite it not being in effect at the time. 

The campaign in Washington D.C. was managed by Lincoln Strategy, a Tempe company connected to a former Trump consultant, which used similar language and arguments. Nathan Sproul, who runs Lincoln Strategy, said in an email to the Mirror that his group was not involved with Save Our Tips AZ.

Advocates for the measure, like Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, argued that concerns from his Democratic colleagues on how the measure could impact tipped employees were moot. Cook argued that businesses are required to make workers whole if their tips do not fill the gap to meet minimum wage, further arguing that, if an employer does not make up the difference, employees could report it to law enforcement. 

“It is an incredibly privileged take to not recognize the power dynamic between employers and employees,” Ortiz responded. “It is not as simple as making a claim or picking up the phone and calling law enforcement when they are scared of their employer.” 

Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, defended “Save Our Tips AZ” and said he was disappointed to see his colleagues “demonize or dismiss” their testimony. He also said that union employees from Sky Harbor International Airport who spoke against the measure “complained” and suggested they should find new employment. 

Sky Harbor airport food workers have been striking over wages, pensions and benefits. Most airport workers make less than $25 an hour, according to the union representing them, and the estimated cost to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the Greater Phoenix area is approximately $33.46 an hour, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. 

The bill will soon head to a vote by the full House. If it passes, it will head to the Senate for approval before it can be placed on the November ballot.