Labor Department Covered Up Evidence That New Tipping Rule Could Lead to Wage Theft

Labor Department Covered Up Evidence That New Tipping Rule Could Lead to Wage Theft

In December, President Trump’s Department of Labor announced that it would roll back an Obama-era rule that limited when tipped restaurant workers would have to share their tips with other employees.

Worker advocates warned that undoing the rule would allow employers to use tips from waiters and bar staff to subsidize the low wages of employees in the kitchen—and that ultimately management could simply keep the tips for themselves. When Trump’s Labor Department proposed its new “tip pooling” rule, which was a top priority for the restaurant industry, it claimed that it couldn’t measure how it would affect workers’ wages.

However, Bloomberg Law now reports that an internal DOL analysis found that workers “could lose out on billions of dollars in gratuities.” But Trump officials tried to alter that analysis and ultimately buried the information entirely.

As the report finds:

Senior department political officials—faced with a government analysis showing that workers could lose billions of dollars in tips as a result of the proposal—ordered staff to revise the data methodology to lessen the expected impact, several of the sources said.

And even when that new methodology seemed to show that tipped workers would lose less money, administration officials remained uneasy. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team took issue with the DOL’s assumption that managers could simply keep the pooled tips instead of dividing it among the staff as a whole. Ultimately, the DOL and the White House agreed to remove the data entirely.

So just how much did the DOL find the rule would cost workers? It’s unclear. But the Economic Policy Institute came up with an estimate that found that the new tip pooling rule could prompt employers to pocket as much as $5.8 billion in tips earned by restaurant workers each year.

“This shows the lengths to which the Trump administration and Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta will go to hide the fact that they are taking steps to actively make workers’ lives worse,” Heidi Shierholz, EPI’s senior economist and a former chief economist for Obama’s DOL, said in a statement.

This is just the latest example of how Trump’s Labor Department has become a vehicle for advancing business-friendly deregulation at the expense of workers’ own welfare.