Baltimore City Council members will consider whether to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, a proposal that follows action by Maryland leaders last year that raised the floor pay for most other workers.

The bill, introduced Monday by Councilman John Bullock, also comes after a failed attempt to enshrine a higher base-level pay for service workers — such as bartenders and restaurant servers — at the state level during the most recent General Assembly session.

The legislation in front of the Baltimore council would gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers over five years from the current statewide level of $3.63 per hour. Starting on July 1, 2025, the minimum wage would bump to $6 and increase another $2 each year until 2029, at which point employers would be barred from deducting any tip credit from the state-minimum $15 hourly wage.

Ahead of the legislation’s introduction Monday afternoon, backers with the Massachusetts-based One Fair Wage, which has supported similar legislation at state and local levels around the country, argued that workers should receive tips on top of a much higher hourly wage.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltimore City Councilman John T Bullock discusses his bill, which would raise the minimum wage for tipped employees on Monday. (J.M. Giordano for The Baltimore Banner)

Tipping is “a direct legacy of slavery,” argued Karlton Scott of One Fair Wage, who said the practice has its roots a refusal to pay Black wait staff, forcing them to rely on tips instead.

The idea behind raising the minimum wage, Bullock said, is to ensure “more predictability” for service workers so that their wages aren’t subject to “which way the wind is blowing.”

Because Bullock is introducing his legislation now, it would have to get a vote before the end of the current City Council term at the end of this year, while a more moderate council remains in control.

Seven other states, along with Chicago and Washington, D.C., have instituted a uniform minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers.

In some other jurisdictions, efforts to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers have faced intense opposition from restaurant owners and industry groups, who argue that the policy ultimately results in lower overall pay for service workers. Since restaurants are forced to make up costs with more expensive menu items, they argue, consumers end up tipping less generously.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Under Maryland law, tipped workers are allowed to be paid as little as $3.63 per hour — half the federal minimum wage — but their total pay including tips must exceed $15 an hour. If it comes up short, employers are required to make up the difference, though research by One Fair Wage has found that, often, this doesn’t happen.

The minimum wage for most non-tipped workers in Maryland rose from $13.15 to $15 an hour at the start of this year, the result of legislation sponsored by Gov. Wes Moore that accelerated the state’s existing schedule for gradually increasing its base-level wages.

A similar effort has led to a particularly contentious sequence in recent years in Washington, D.C., where voters first eliminated the minimum wage for tipped workers in 2018, only to be overridden by their own city council. A repeat of the measure was again approved by D.C. voters in 2022, raising the floor pay for tipped workers from $5.35 per hour to $16.10 — the minimum wage for other workers in the district — by 2027.

The D.C. measure pitted restaurant owners against advocates in a high-profile battle of the 2022 election cycle, with servers and bartenders falling on both sides of the argument, according to reporting in The Washington Post.