By Dale Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Foundation
Rhode Island has been firmly in the crosshairs of out-of-state special interest groups for the last several years. Each year, we devote thousands of hours to correcting false and misleading information that has found its way into mainstream media coverage and in dinnertime and water cooler conversations alike. It’s hard to compete with entities with deep pockets and a militant agenda to fundamentally disrupt the way hospitality runs in our state.
Their goal is simple. Eliminate the tipped wage, institute a $15 per hour wage and let the chips fall where they may. What they don’t understand, or what they are intentionally omitting from their rhetoric, is that no business – hospitality or other – could sustain a 49% labor cost increase without either raising prices by a minimum of 55% or drastically cutting work hours and jobs. Consumers are certainly not going to support paying $15.15 for that hamburger and fries that they paid $10.00 for previously. Bottom line, fewer people dine out, more businesses reduce staff, and more businesses close.
However, this year’s legislative battle isn’t confined to this issue. We have a multitude of bills being submitted that have the potential to harm our industry. At this writing, they include:
Minimum wage: H-7199: raises the minimum wage from $10.10 (new in 2018) to $11.00 on January 1, 2019; S-2247: raises to $12.00 by January 1, 2020; S-2244: raises by $1.00 each year through 2023, ending at $15.00 per hour.
Tipped wage: H-5397: raises the tipped wage by $0.50 every year until it reaches two-thirds of the minimum wage; S-2476: eliminates the tipped wage by 2023. S-2247; eliminates the tipped wage by 2028.
Currently, we’re watching several pieces of proposed labor legislation that also have the potential to disrupt business. They include salary history ban, pay discrimination mandate, workplace bullying, employment at will and overtime salary threshold. While on the surface, it would seem that any business could support some of this legislation, a deeper analysis of each brings up troubling language and consequences for business owners.
Salary history ban: prohibits employers from asking applicants about past salary history and specifically allows employees to discuss their salary.
Pay discrimination mandate: would dramatically change the equal pay for equal work standard and increase liability for businesses.
Workplace bullying: creates the ‘Healthy Workplace Act of 2018’ and establishes a course of action against employers and employees for workplace bullying, harassment and other abusive conduct.
Employment at will: would end Rhode Island’s ‘employment at will’ doctrine and cause a number of mechanisms to be instituted before firing an employee.
Overtime salary threshold: would increase the salary threshold from $455 per week to $1,036 per week.
Our industry is a fluid, changing environment that works. We employ more than 80,000 in Rhode Island alone and the industry contributes millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state. We are a model of job creation locally and across our nation. In order to continue to get our message out and to the lawmakers who are sponsoring so many damaging pieces of legislation, we need to stand up, show up and speak up.
Stand up to out-of-state special interest groups, show up to Rhode Island’s state house and tell legislators why these bills are bad for business and bad for employees, and speak up – testify, write a letter to your legislator or to your local paper with your point of view. Let your voice be heard. When it’s always the same group of people, it’s not as impactful. This is a critically important juncture and your business could depend on it.
Dale J. Venturini is the President & CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Association. A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, 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. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.