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Proposal to lower mandated pay for tipped Arizona workers dies in Senate

Two Republicans joined Democrats in the Arizona Senate last week to vote down a proposal to lower the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Arizona law allows employers to pay tipped workers $3 below the state’s hourly minimum wage, which is currently $14.35. 

The proposed ballot referral would ask voters to change that law to allow employers to instead pay tipped workers 25% less than the minimum wage.

Employers would have to show that those workers end up making $2 an hour more than the minimum wage through tips. 

But Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein (D-Tempe) called the proposal “wage theft,” saying the minimum wage paid by employers would drop to $3.57 less than the current state minimum wage.

“And then every year it gets worse,” Epstein said. “The gap from their pay to minimum wage becomes more and more dollars every year, because it changes from $3 gap to a percentage.”

But Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise) defended the measure, saying she was able to purchase a home and pay off student debt as a tipped worker earlier in her life while earning a low hourly wage.

“These people want to work for tips. That’s exactly what I did,” Shamp said. “And any one of us that worked our way through college knows exactly how this works.”

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.