2 initiatives aim for the ballot, asking Arizona voters to change how tipped workers are paid

By Kirsten Dorman
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2024 - 9:48am

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A used pen cup at a restaurant in Glendale
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Tips and pens cups at a restaurant in Glendale in 2020.

As the Arizona Legislature continues to debate a change to the state’s minimum wage for tipped workers, another competing effort is gathering signatures to boost pay for those same employees.

Arizona law currently allows businesses to pay tipped workers $3 less than the state’s $14.35 minimum wage. The expectation is that tips will make up the difference.

A citizen initiative backed by the national organization One Fair Wage is gathering signatures for a measure asking voters to raise the state's minimum wage to $18 an hour for all workers, even those who receive tips.

In response, the Arizona Restaurant Association is asking state lawmakers to pass legislation referring another question to the ballot; one that would let businesses pay tipped workers 25% less than the minimum wage.

If both questions appear on the ballot, and if both pass, the ballot measure that receives more votes will take precedent over the competing law.

At a March 18 House committee meeting, Steve Chucri, ARA president and CEO, argued that the One Fair Wage proposition would lead to restaurants shutting down and servers ultimately receiving less tips.

“For the 12,500 restaurants in the state of Arizona, it’s over $20 million per day,” Chucri said of payroll costs. “And that does not include tips.”

After Chucri spoke, members of Save Our Tips Az, a group that also opposes the One Fair Wage proposition, testified before the committee.

But as first reported by the Arizona Mirror, some Democrats at the meeting felt “bamboozled” and accused Chucri of misrepresenting the group by not explicitly mentioning their positions or ties to the ARA when they testified.

“Steve Chucri, the president and CEO of ARA, claimed that the amendment was counter to a ballot initiative,” said state Rep. Analise Ortiz, a Democrat. “And in his testimony he suggested that ARA servers would be testifying. A large majority of the staff testifying turned out to be executives and middle management, even board members of the Arizona Restaurant Association.”

Reporting for the Mirror also found that Save Our Tips Az was registered with the state as a political action committee roughly two weeks ahead of the meeting, with its chairman and treasurer listed as the president and chief operating officer of the ARA.

Beth Cochran identified herself as a manager at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, when she testified that “the amount of money the tipped income worker makes is far above minimum wage.” But she didn’t mention that she is an ARA board member.

After passing a vote on the House floor, the bill will head back to the Senate a final time where, if passed, it will go to the November ballot.

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