Raising their voices to raise the minimum wage

  • A mobile billboard urging a $15 minimum wage for food service workers was parked in front of the State House in Concord Saturday. The truck was scheduled to make stops outside Sen, Maggie Hassan's office in Concord and Jeanne Shaheen's office in Manchester. Both Hassan and Shaheen voted against the first introduction of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 in Congress. —Courtesy

  • Madear’s Southern Eatery and Bakery co-owner Kyle Davis cooks up a meal for the investors and staff on Thursday, September 25, 2020 before the grand opening scheduled for next week. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/3/2021 5:02:34 PM

The women dressed in black fanned out around the dining room Saturday, taking orders from customers at Madear’s Southern Eatery and Bakery in Pembroke.

The roster of volunteer waitstaff included nine current Democratic lawmakers, all women, who want to broaden the pay system for restaurant employees that forces them to rely on tips for most of their income.

They sought attention and unity at Madear’s, a close ally of liberal causes. They brought food and drinks to their customers, who were also their supporters, to remind lawmakers that this section of the workforce has been short-changed long enough.

It’s more than merely raising the waitstaff wage in New Hampshire from $3.26 an hour, plus tips. And it’s more than merely raising that figure to the Granite State’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

This is a titanic hike, to $15 an hour, which would include workers in the restaurant business.

“I’m here because I think it’s a big deal,” said state Rep. Rebecca McWilliams of Concord. “It needs to have a bright light shined on it.”

McWilliams has walked in others’ shoes. She waited tables for seven years back in school, first in Rhode Island, then at law-school Boston.

“I paid for all my housing,” she said. “There were nights where I didn’t make enough cash to pay the bills. It was tight. It was always tight. Relying on tips is not really the way to go.”

As it turned out, the Granite State’s two senators – Democrats Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen – voted against the Bernie Sanders-led Raise the Wage Act amendment this spring, saying upping the minimum pay to $15 was too drastic.

“People who work 40 hours a week should be able to get by and shouldn’t be living at or below poverty level,” Hassan told the media. “I’ve long supported raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour and I’m open to $15 an hour. We need a path forward that is appropriate for workers and small businesses and could actually pass.”

Maybe, but Saturday’s lawmakers, while loyal to their senators, actually rebelled. They squeezed Hassan and Shaheen. They, along with a group called One Fair Wage, a national organization of restaurant and other service workers, parked a big blue truck in front of the State House before their work shift at Madear’s.

White letters over a bold blue background read, “Hi Senators Shaheen and Hassan! 80% of tipped service workers in New Hampshire want a $15 minimum wage with tips on top.”

Said McWilliams, “When our senators refused to support it, I said, ‘What?’ I think both of them had concerns about restaurants jumping up from three dollars and something cents to $15 an hour. At least that’s what they said.”

Republicans worry about the culture shock of $15 an hour, and not just for restaurant workers. They say harder work everywhere, not a change in law, will lead to higher paying jobs, the “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” theory. With such a wage increase, they say small businesses will be forced to lay off employees.

Hassan and Shaheen cited concern for small businesses, too.

“I support raising the minimum wage to $15 with safeguards in place for small businesses and restaurants that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic,” Shaheen said in March.

Of course, Saturday’s server-for-an-hour state lawmakers had their own research and talking points. The restaurant business is booming in the 10 states that have passed a $15-per-hour minimum, McWilliams pointed out. She said tips have not suffered with the wage increase.

Asked if she had a message for Hassan and Shaheen, McWilliams said, “I just want to say there are restaurants like Madear’s that get it. And I think the restaurants who don’t get it should talk to Madear’s.”

The restaurant is owned by Robb Curry and Kyle Davis, who in the eight months since they opened have emerged as strong liberal voices in the community. They were thrilled to host this event.

“In case you can’t tell, Rob and I are an interracial, gay couple,” Davis said. “So already we’re dealing with social justice issues in our daily lives, raising two children and opening up a business and trying to run it in New Hampshire.”

Like society and gay marriage, they brought together two very different worlds. Cobb is a Cajun cook from Baton Rouge. Davis is a baker from the Granite State.

That translates into eclectic orders, combining, on one menu, Jambalaya and Boudin Balls, and Red Velvet Cake and Seasonal Curd Tart. Always with a sprinkle of liberalism on top.

Justice. Wages. Fairness. This is what this contingent said they were all about. Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight of Manchester lamented the problems that are common among restaurant workers.

“There are the times at the end of the day where you see (customers) forget and take both slips,” Klein-Knight said. “If they do that, a server doesn’t get tipped.”

That’s unacceptable to the nine lawmakers – including one state senator, Becky Whitley of Concord, and eight House members – who waited tables to prove a point. They wore black pants and black T-shirts that read, “Wage Justice is Racial Justice.”

They poked fun at the men that they say they invited, both Democrats and Republicans, to Madear’s and never showed up, empowering this group with defiant strength and confidence. Like the woman flexing her biceps on the truck.

They served for an hour, from 4 to 5 p.m. McWilliams brought a pair of refreshing, orange-colored drinks, called Honeysuckles, to a table between the entrance and the bar. She wasn’t sure what was in it. That hardly mattered, though.

“I did it for seven years,” McWilliams said. “They had orientation, but it’s like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. I know how to do this.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

Stay informed with our free email updates
Concord Monitor Daily Headlines
Concord Monitor Breaking News
Concord Monitor Dining & Entertainment
Concord Monitor Report For America Education
Concord Monitor Report For America Health
Concord Monitor Real Estate
Concord Monitor Sports
Concord Monitor Suncook Valley
Concord Monitor Contests & Promotions
Concord Monitor Weekly Most Popular
Concord Monitor Granite Geek
Concord Monitor Monitor Marquee
Concord Monitor Hopkinton
Concord Monitor Politics
Concord Monitor MY CONCORD
Concord Monitor Franklin


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy

Customer Service

Social Media


View All Sections

Part of the Newspapers of New England Family