Bill would protect workers' tips

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Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a bill that would protect the rights of workers in the service industry. It would apply to waiters, waitresses and anyone who receives tips.

The measure overwhelmingly passed in the House on Tuesday, and now it awaits a vote by the Senate.

It was a video seen around the world on YouTube: Joey DeFrancesco quitting his room service job at the Providence Renaissance, claiming repeated tip theft by his managers.

Now his stand for workers’ rights is being supported by state lawmakers.

“I think it’s a really big step for Rhode Island workers because essentially we are all in the service industry,” DeFrancesco said.

The bill is intended to protect service employees from having a percentage of tips taken by owners and managers. It also seeks to make sure that any service charges that show up on a bill are explicitly stated to the consumer.

“In the service industry, we are still one of the few states that make $2.80 an hour,” said Maura George, a server at Hemenway’s restaurant in Providence.

“The customers are giving the money to us for the services that we provide to them. It’s only fair that they know where that money is going,” said Staci Belonos, a server at Hemenway’s.

George and Belonos made it clear that Hemenway’s is fair to its employees and doesn’t take their tips.

How big of a problem is this? Dale Venturini of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association warned against punishing everyone for the mistakes of few.

“In any industry you’re going to have bad people … So, a lot of people felt insulted by it,” Venturini said.

“If you’re actually obeying the law and not defrauding consumers and your employees, there isn’t a problem,” said state Rep. Chris Blazejewski, D-East Providence.

Blazejewski sponsored the bill that passed in the House. He said that it’s just as much a consumer rights issue in that the customer should know where his or her money is going.

“It’s about protecting consumers and there are reasonable expectations as to where their tips go and who they reward,” Blazejewski said.

There is federal legislation that protects workers’ rights in these ways, but states like Massachusetts and New York have their own laws. The Rhode Island bill was modeled after those.

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