Lawmakers consider raising the minimum wage for the state's thousands of tipped workers

Lawmakers are considering whether to give thousands of restaurant employees, hotel housekeepers and other tipped workers in Rhode Island a raise.

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The hourly minimum wage for tipped workers currently is $2.89. Rep. Aaron Regunberg says that rate hasn't increased in nearly 20 years.

The Providence Democrat has introduced a bill to raise it. Under his plan, the hourly rate would increase to $4.50 in 2016 and reach $9 in 2019. In 2020, it would be comparable to the regular minimum wage at that time.

"We know from evidence across the country that we can do this in a way that helps workers and doesn't hurt businesses," he said.

Seven states have abolished the tipped wage so service employees are paid at least the minimum wage before tips.

Most states do allow businesses to pay tipped workers less than the state's minimum wage as long as tips make up the difference. The federal wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.

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New York state's tipped minimum wage will go from $5 to $7.50 per hour on Dec. 31. The minimum wage for tipped workers in Massachusetts will go from $2.63 per hour to $3.75 per hour by 2017.

Business groups have opposed these wage hikes, saying that increases lead to higher labor costs and force employers to cut jobs.

Rhode Island labor organizations, community groups and advocates for women have formed a "One Fair Wage" coalition to urge passage of Regunberg's bill.

Nearly 70 percent of Rhode Island's tipped workers are women, and they're more likely than workers in other sectors to live in poverty, according to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for better wages and working conditions for the nation's restaurant workforce.

The House Committee on Labor will hold a hearing on the bill Thursday.

Rhode Island also is considering raising the state's minimum wage by $1.10 to $10.10 per hour.