As I was walking to work one beautiful San Francisco Monday morning, I tuned in to KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. The topic was the issue of restaurants in the Bay Area wanting to do away with the tip-based system and going with a 20% gratuity fee.
The conversation got into all kinds of complicated areas that would take a long time to summarize here. The thing that caught my attention was that the NRA (National Restaurant Association) was totally against it. One of the speakers said the NRA is responsible for keeping waiters and waitresses base hourly wages at $2.13 an hour nationally. That sounds crazy. I did not know this.
Suddenly I thought, “Weren’t these guys involved in changing the labor laws so that musicians playing in restaurants are now considered Independent Contractors instead of employees? And didn’t former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain serve as President of the NRA? I think I saw that on Jon Stewart.”
I was on fire— to the internets!
After a quick google search, I’m sorry to report I could not find any connection between the 1970s labor law and the NRA (affectionately known as the other NRA). Maybe there is, but without hard internet evidence, I don’t feel comfortable making that claim (although it does feel right, you know?).
But what’s the big deal about musicians being Independent Contractors? It’s been almost 40 years. If the law was reversed, would it even matter at this point?
To the Internets!
Well actually, nobody really knows. BUT, taking a cue from the past, as soon as some sort of system is set up, it will all be torn down again because new technologies and musical styles will emerge and change everything. This has happened over and over since the dawn of time when musician unions were formed. UNLESS, this concept of cultural change is built into the system (my science fiction fantasy).
Sounds nice but if money is not made in those restaurants then no system will work. And what about politics? The NRA lobbies to keep servers wages at $2.13 an hour, and wins! Over and over! Go Herman Cain!
But the sad reality is that you could get $50 for a gig in 1989, and 25 years later, get $50 in 2014. The only difference is there are more restaurants and less gigs.
P.S. San Francisco Voters just passed a $15 minimum wage law. Check your local restaurant for the latest updates…