Local small businesses, servers unsure of Biden’s proposed minimum wage increase, tipping wage elimination


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – President Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan to Congress, including a minimum wage increase to $15/hour as well as eliminating the tipping wage.

The minimum wage increase proposal caused mixed feelings among the small businesses News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with Saturday.

Boomtown and Company Owner James McAmis said he is against the wage increase as it would likely cripple his business and result in job loss.

“I could not afford that, there’s no way,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “We really depend on not having to pay everybody that to make payroll, so imagine if it came down, if they made us pay everyone $15 an hour, I don’t think we’ll have a choice but to let people go and do the work ourselves, which being a small business, maybe we could work it ourselves and probably keep one or two people but we would definitely have to let people go, there’s no doubt about that.”

His suggestion is that the businesses should raise wages as necessary.

“We opened in 2015, and we gradually increased wages as time goes on, based on inflation, so that kind of just happens gradually and naturally. I think if you try to force it artificially then you’re going to cost people jobs,” McAmis said. “The only option would be for us to drastically raise our prices, and I just don’t know if we would meet the sales demand by raising our prices that much, we’d have to raise them more than I think people would be willing to pay.”

He added that due to inflation, Boomtown’s prices will have to go up, but not nearly as much as they would have to if the minimum wage was increased to $15/hour.

“We’ll probably go up a dollar on our shirts this year, I mean, inflation does happen and that’s just part of life, but I don’t think I’m saying anything that somebody hasn’t already said, but if you raise minimum wage, everything’s just going to jump up with it and you will cost people jobs, and I don’t think that that’s the goal because in an effort to help people make more money, all you’re going to do is make them not have jobs at all, and you may even put out small businesses that provide small jobs for people who are maybe needing part time jobs, maybe they’re working and going through school, they’re not needing full time, high paying jobs, they just need something to pay the bills, and that would get rid of those jobs and so, I don’t know where the money’s going to come from unless they’re just going to continue to write everybody checks but from the government, I don’t think that’s a good idea either,” McAmis told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Atlantis Employee June Wagner said she thinks the minimum wage increase has been a long time coming.

“Pay our workers what they are worth and boost the economy, because if you make more money, you spend more money,” she said. “From the perspective of a small business, it may be a challenge in some areas, however, I think by doing that, you would increase employees wanting to be there, you would increase spending, which would help boost the economy, so I think that by increasing your wage, you’ll also increase business into your small business.”

Wagner said she believes Johnson City should be more competitive in the world market and thinks the raise in minimum wage might draw workers to the region.

“We should be able to be competitive and have a good standard of living, everyone,” she said.

Eliminating the tipping wage

Along with the proposed minimum wage increase, the Biden administration also proposed to eliminate the tipping wage. Local server of 15 years, Anna Fields, told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that she does not think this is a good idea, and Congress should disregard it.

“The 15 years I’ve been serving, that’s what I make on a bad day. I know we’re making $2.17/hour to $3.25/hour, that’s just our hourly, but like as far as our tips combined, I don’t think it’ll be a good idea myself,” Fields said.

Details about the $1.9 trillion proposed COVID-19 relief plan’s wage section are limited.

“Now, if it was $15/hour plus tips, everybody would be serving and you know as well as I do, serving is not for everybody, you’ve got to be able to deal with the meanest of the mean, the saddest of the sad, I mean, I always tell people all the time that being a server is kind of like being a therapist in a way, you know? People come to see you, people socialize, they come just to see you, like ‘hey, I see you every week,’ and I feel like if they do that, like if they just make it $15, no tips, I don’t think people are going to be serving,” Fields explained.

She said that smaller, local restaurants are likely to fail if this proposal is passed by Congress.

“The smaller businesses, like the locally owned, I think, in the long run, they’ll end up shutting down, they might try to do it, but in the long run, I just don’t know how it would be financially possible, I just don’t,” Fields said.

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