House bill to raise minimum wage passes, includes servers

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) It's a hot summer day outside and inside the Barnyard Restaurant in South Burlington, the wood-fired grill is burning.

Photo Source: Martin Falbisoner / CC BY-SA 3.0 / MGN

Paul Handy is the general manager and says he does just about everything else to keep the place running.

"For the small business owners, you have to do a lot of extra things," Handy said.

Handy is worried if lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have their way, he may be working even harder.

The U.S. House passed the "Raise the Wage" bill on Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is the first time the bill included tipped workers like servers.

"When you include tips, they definitely become some of the higher paid of the restaurant," said Handy.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is at $7.25, but it's $10.78 in Vermont. Handy says if you raise the wages, it would raise the prices on the menu.

"The increase is going to make my job a little harder," Handy said.

Congressman Peter Welch voted to raise the bill and says it's important to advance policies that are good for Vermonters. Welch says he understands the concerns of restaurant workers, but when WCAX News asked, he didn't have a clear solution. He says he's looking into it.

"The goal is to help people get fair pay, but it's to build our economy," said Welch, D-Vermont.

The bill is now headed to the Senate, where it's not expected to pass.

Back at the restaurant, customers say they're willing to pay a little more so workers get a living wage.

"It's nice to know people would then have a guaranteed minimum that better supports them and their families and what their needs are," one customer said.

As for Handy, whatever happens in Washington, he's determined to not get burned.

"We will do what we can to make sure we survive but, as I said, for the smaller restaurants it's very tough," Handy said.

Off-camera, servers say if the wage goes up, their tips will go down, and so will their potential to earn the extra money that fuels their own professional performance.