New York Restaurants Get Served

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While many of us are scrambling to spend money on the people we love, attend fabulous holiday soirees, or get the heck out of town, new legislation from the New York State Department of Labor has created another kind of chaos. A long-awaited clarification on wages, tips, and the rules governing such things came down the pike, and come January 1st, all restaurants, clubs, bars, and hotels must be in compliance.

A concerted effort by the New York State Restaurant Association and those who lobby for owners and operators managed to push the compliance date to March 1st, although pay increases will be retroactive to New Year’s Day. With all that’s going on, it would have been impossible for the industry to change their payroll system and educate their teams about the new rules. I will go into this in depth at a future date. I, too, have things to take care of.

I have been a long-time supporter of the NYRA – until recently. I was against their vehement opposition to the paid sick leave bill, which was defeated. I thought restaurant workers, like accountants and secretaries and people from every walk of life, deserved 5 or 7 days a year of paid sick leave. They screamed disaster and got the bill killed. I also opposed them on the letter grade system. Again, they said their world would collapse. I felt the public had a right to know who was keeping things clean and who was not. The letter grade system is here. It works, and places are trying harder to comply with health code issues. NYRA were very wrong, and I believe on the wage issues they are wrong again. Here is my brief chat with Paul Seres, who is President over at the New York Nightlife Association.

Isn’t a decent wage a good thing? How do I, as an observer, see no paid sick leave and opposition to an increased wage as anything but anti-labor? Our margins are thin as it is, and any changes tend to bring about a shock. I think the wage order for the most part is good, as we did get a lot of things we asked for. I think the objection from the industry is how the NY State Department of Labor announced the increase and when it would be taking effect. They made the announcement last week at the busiest time of the year for most establishments, and said that effective January 1, 2011, we had to change all of our payroll, which seemed a bit obtuse. There is no legislation being proposed as the NY State Department of Labor makes these types of decisions on their own. However, there have been public hearings with the wage board that allowed people in the industry to be heard, on both side of the arguments. Additionally, most tipped employees are getting very little on their paychecks as it is, once you take out taxes, workmen’s comp, etc. They earn their living through gratuities and hopefully overtime

What will be the impact on restaurants? Will some close? I think overall, the impact on the restaurants themselves will be very little, maybe an increase in prices on the menu, but overall I think we will come through this okay. I think the problem is the timing of the announcement and the date of implementation. As I’m sure you are aware, there are a few lawsuits out there against establishments for labor issues, and I can see them adding this on top of everything else if this was implemented by the deadline. The NYS Dept. of Labor did announce there would be a grace period for implementation, but only after we brought this to their attention.

The NYRA has been chicken littling all year: paid sick leave, letter grades, and now this. Is the sky really going to fall and who is the enemy proposing this legislation? Paul answered off the record. I will say that without the tireless and often unnoticed efforts by him and Robert Bookman and a handful of others, the ability to operate a joint in this town would be severely hampered. Although I disagree with them sometimes, I believe we would be hurting if they didn’t do their bit.