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RIHA Column: The War on Hospitality Ends in a Draw

By Dale J. Venturini

Dale A. Venturini, President & CEO, Rhode Island Hospitality Association

Dale A. Venturini, President & CEO, Rhode Island Hospitality Association

The legislative season is finally over, and while we can’t claim that we’ve won the war, we can say that we’ve won some key battles for the time being.

Our industry faces an ongoing attack from out-of-state, organized labor forces. They have bullied their way into Rhode Island and have tried to affect our business model, disrupt the way we do business or shut us down entirely.

With the Tipped Wage Bill, the opposition painted us as greedy business owners who pay a sub-minimum wage of $2.89 per hour. They did not let the truth stand in the way of a good – if fictitious – storyline. No matter how loudly we yelled, “there is no sub-minimum wage!” it did not seem to resonate with the public, and unfortunately, these misrepresentations made it up to Capitol Hill.

After a tremendous amount of grassroots work and effort through rallies, meetings and testimony, we were able to leverage the good faith we have built at the State House and reach a compromise with leadership.

While we don’t consider the resulting one-dollar tipped-wage increase over two years a victory, we are proud of our industry’s tremendous effort to soften a devastating bill. Remember, the original bill had tipped-wage labor costs rising nearly 200% in January 2016.

By reaching this compromise, the hospitality industry is more able to adjust to the new tipped wage in stages. Our efforts have been noticed and respected on a local and national level and have played a significant role with our state legislators and their willingness to sit down and listen to our concerns.

While some folks in our industry claim that we should have beaten this bill entirely, the truth of the matter is that we were going to realize an increase to the tipped-wage this year – period.  We are fortunate that the increase was not as significant as anticipated.

Our Association has grown stronger through this fight and our brand was enhanced in the process. The Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s work to deter the efforts of outside, organized forces is a positive for the hospitality industry as a whole. This fight is not over, however our opponents are well-funded and organized, and they will be back with more legislation to push and more money to spend.

Hospitality is one of the biggest economic drivers in our state, employing more than 60,000 people. We want it to continue to be a vital cornerstone of our state’s economy, giving thousands of folks an opportunity. The Rhode Island Hospitality Association can’t win these battles without the committed participation of everyone in our industry. The consequences of future failure could be devastating to the entire hospitality industry. Simply stated, if you work in hospitality, you just can’t afford NOT to be involved.

A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Dale Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Ms. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.

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