Want to deliver jobs in New York City? Look To Sylvia’s and Melba’s restaurants in Harlem, not Seattle

NYS ASSEMBLY MEMBER INEZ DICKENS and NYS ASSEMBLY MEMBER AL TAYLOR | 4/4/2019, 1:30 p.m.
While the story of how New York City won, and then lost, 25,000 new Amazon jobs will continue to be ...
Melba Wilson Facebook

While the story of how New York City won, and then lost, 25,000 new Amazon jobs will continue to be debated in the weeks and months ahead, we should not lose sight of the fact that Gov. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature currently have proposals before them that could also potentially jeopardize thousands of jobs for New Yorkers. And significantly, while those Amazon jobs were simply promised for the future, the ones we are seeking to protect are already here and supporting families in our neighborhoods.

New York City’s hospitality industry employs tens of thousands of residents across the five boroughs in restaurants and bars that are, in the vast majority of cases, small businesses owned by hard-working entrepreneurs. Many of these business owners are minorities, immigrants or women and they have been challenged in recent years by a growing number of regulatory hurdles and significantly increased costs. Now, with a proposal to eliminate the critically important tip wage pending with the Cuomo administration—in addition to recently introduced legislation in both the Senate and Assembly to do the same—the very existence of many of these scrappy job creators is threatened.

Right here in our vibrant community of Harlem alone, there are dozens of restaurants that would be devastated by the elimination of the tip wage. In a recent piece signed by nearly 20 women restaurateurs—including Harlem legends like Sylvia’s and Melba’s—they stated, “We didn't start our businesses just to make a profit but also to offer great hospitality and food that nourishes our neighbors’ souls. We deplete our savings and mortgage our homes in hopes of establishing model businesses in our community. In Harlem, the cost keeps going up and the tip credit has helped us open and sustain our restaurants.” The tip credit in New York has been essential in enabling restaurants like these to manage their costs, while at the same time ensuring that employees receive the full, legally mandated minimum wage.

That said, it is absolutely true that we, as a state, have a clear responsibility to address wage theft and employee abuse and as legislators, we are committed to ensuring that the Department of Labor has all of the resources necessary to enforce the law. But eliminating the hospitality tip wage—an economic structure has served entrepreneurs, waiters and customers well—is the wrong approach (and surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of servers in NYC make well above the state’s minimum wage and don’t want this change!).

At the end of the day, we cannot allow recent fights over corporate subsidies and mega headquarters to distract us from the fact that the vast majority of jobs created in our City are still the result of small entrepreneurs fighting to make a go of it in an increasingly challenging regulatory and economic environment. And so rather than focus on wooing big companies with incentive packages, let’s listen to one of the sectors still striving to create and maintain jobs—NYC’s hospitality industry—and address the concerns of small, often minority and women-owned restaurants in Harlem, Bed-Stuy and yes, dare we say, even Long Island City.

Assembly Member Inez Dickens represents the 70th assembly district in Harlem and Assembly Member Al Taylor represents the 71st assembly district in Upper Manhattan.