Restaurant workers demand tip protection

By Barry Rueger
Published: The Media Co-op
May 29, 2024
1205 words

Tens of thousands of servers in restaurants and cafés across Canada rely on tips to survive. Restaurant front-of-house staff are almost always paid minimum wage, and the extra 15 to 20 per cent can mean the difference between paying the rent or skimping on groceries.

In an age of debit and credit cards, tipping your server almost always means tapping your card on a Stripe or Interac terminal. It’s fast and easy, and you don’t have to do mental math to figure out the tip amount. One question remains, though: do you know if your cheerful server will actually see any of that money?

The Halifax Workers’ Action Centre has made tips a focus of their work, with questionnaires and outreach to try and determine how widespread the problem of tip theft might be. “Tip theft” refers to when an employer refuses to let servers keep their tip income, sometimes by insisting that it be split with kitchen and other staff, but even worse by simply taking all of that money for themselves.

Halifax WAC organizer Syd Blum describes the challenges faced by ordinary restaurant employees. “Workers have a very difficult time accessing justice because the cost of lawyers is prohibitive. Nova Scotia is one of the very few provinces in Canada that doesn’t classify tips as wages. So workers are really in that tricky middle ground where, at the federal level, tips are considered income, but provincially they’re not protected, like wages are.”

The WAC surveyed restaurant workers in Halifax, and of more than 250 responses, nearly three-quarters had experienced some form of tip theft. According to Blum, “whether they were currently having their tips stolen, had previously worked somewhere where tips were stolen, or knew someone who was experiencing tip theft — it was widespread. And we cast a wide net, we didn’t just seek out people with experience in tip theft.”

When diners left tips in cash this was less of an issue. Now that almost all tips go through the restaurant’s electronic payment systems, it’s often the case that servers can’t even be sure what their customers left for them as tips.

Halifax WAC warns servers that employers may not pass-on all tips from Point-Of-Sale (POS) machines, or that tip-pooling with kitchen and other staff might quietly include a cut for the bosses. Other employers deduct credit card fees from tips.

One former Nova Scotia restaurant worker, Pers Turner, recalls a major food service company that owned restaurants and did catering menus, but refused to pay catering employees tips, even though they were added to client bills at the end of the day.

“For their catering staff, they did take all of the tips, and their justification was that they paid their catering staff more,” Turner says. “The bills for catering had the customers paying a gratuity, but all of that money went to the company.”

Denying tip protection

In November of 2023, that dilemma led Nova Scotia NDP MLA Kendra Coombes to introduce Bill 366, the Tip and Gratuity Theft Prevention Act. Modelled after similar Acts in other provinces, it would have protected workers’ tips from greedy employers.

A year and a half later, Nova Scotia’s Conservative government has decided not to move ahead with tip protection. Their argument, common among those who dismiss tip protection, is that “in Nova Scotia, tips are not considered wages and the Labour Standards Code does not address tip protection.”

Currently, six Canadian provinces have legislation protecting workers’ tip income. The three prairie provinces, Nova Scotia and the three northern territories do not. Most employers are happy to pass on tips to the servers who earn them, but I spent several hours scouring provincial Reddit groups across Canada, and examples appeared everywhere. The amounts lost are often relatively small, and servers are generally making close to minimum wage.

Blum says because the costs of launching legal action against an employer are often unaffordable, these thefts are just accepted as part of the job.

“The Halifax WAC exists because the cost of hiring a lawyer is prohibitive to most people — especially those making service industry wages,” she says. “We get a lot of people who were turned away from employment lawyers’ offices because they’re told the value of their claim would be far outweighed by legal fees and it’s just not worth it.”

The Canadian Revenue Agency has taken tips much more seriously. For decades, they have been known to audit restaurants to tally servers’ tips and assess whether income taxes have been paid on them. Now the CRA website is explicit in how the employer needs to track tips: “If any of your tips and gratuities are controlled by your employer, your tip income amount should already be included on your T4 slip.”

Despite Nova Scotia’s claim that tips aren’t wages, the CRA says that “in Canada, the amount you earn in tips and gratuities is considered to be income, and you must report all of it on your tax return.”

In other words, Nova Scotia will expect your server to pay provincial income tax on tip income, even though the province refuses to protect that income from employer theft.

Manitoba, which had been under Progressive Conservative rule for seven and a half years, took things one step further. The Employment Standards: An Adult EAL Curriculum Resource, a program designed to introduce Employment Standards concepts to newcomers while developing English as a second language, teaches students that, “Legally … the server’s tips belong to the employer, so the employer can take money from the server’s tips.”

Despite the 2023 election of the NDP’s Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew, that remains provincial policy. In an email statement to The Media Co-op, Robyn Dryden, a policy analyst in the Department of Labour and Immigration, says: “The Employment Standards Code defines ‘wages’ as ‘compensation for work performed that is paid to an employee by his or her employer…’ [as] tips are paid by the customer rather than the employer, and are considered to be similar to a bonus rather than a wage.”

Helping servers directly

If you eat in restaurants on the prairies, or in Nova Scotia, you may need to take steps to ensure that your server receives the tips that you leave. One option is to return to carrying cash for tips, and leaving — or handing to them discreetly — a $10 or $20 bill at the end of dinner.

Alternatively, you can ask your server: “If I leave a tip on the terminal, who gets that money? Is it you?”

Blum encourages talking “to workers about this, especially as customers.”

“It’s one thing if an organizer comes in and starts talking about tip theft, but it’s another thing if people who are in the shop every day buying coffee or eating breakfast are having those conversations. We really encourage that,” she says.

For tips to be protected province-wide — something workers have been calling for — Blum says all it takes is a little political will.

“What’s wild about tip theft in Nova Scotia is that we’re not asking the government to create some kind of new program. We’re talking about a line on a piece of paper. It’s an amendment to legislation, so it would cost the government nothing.”

I’m 68 and hired a personal trainer because I’ve always hated working out. For the first time ever, I feel great and am making progress.

By Barry Rueger
Published: Business Insider
May 10, 2024
554 words
Downloadable PDF

Barry ties his shoes on a bench at the gym.As a kid, I hated gym class and lived with my nose in a book. While my classmates were playing hockey or soccer, I was in the library on my way to becoming a writer.

Over the years, I occasionally visited the gym with my wife who loves working out, but I never really embraced fitness until recently.Exercise is important at any age, but this is especially true for older adults. After all, working out can prevent or delay age-related health issues. With this in mind, I decided to make a change.

Now, at 68, I’ve fallen in love with working out, thanks to my personal trainer. Here’s what starting my fitness journey later in life has been like.

Read the entire story at Business Insider.

Get to Know the Global Scheme that Promotes Green Building

Published: Asparagus Magazine
November 4, 2020
1000 words

The Vancouver Convention Centre is LEED-certified platinum.
The Vancouver Convention Centre is LEED-certified platinum. (Photo by Faruk Ateş via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is a comprehensive and complex certification program for green building. Developed in the 1990s by the non-profit US Green Building Council (USGBC), it now guides sustainable construction in more than 160 countries. LEED looks at every component of a building — from site selection and construction techniques to appliances and furnishings — with the goal of making buildings safe, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient.

Sustainability Begins at Home

Although LEED is often associated with prestige buildings like Vancouver’s grass-roofed convention centre or Facebook’s water-efficient headquarters in California, LEED also certifies apartment, condo, and single family home construction. Projects earn points for meeting requirements like careful construction-waste disposal and optional features like rainwater management. The number of points earned determines the level of certification awarded: certified, silver, gold, or platinum.

Read the full article.

How long can we support the weight of COVID-19?

Published: The Globe and Mail (PDF)
September 25, 2020
818 words

In August, I received a frantic text message from my sister. She has been our  mother’s primary caregiver for many years, but Mom is 92, settling into dementia, and now had gout. The time had come to finally help her to move out of the family home and into care.
Even though I hardly ever make the drive from Vancouver, where I live, to my home town Kelowna, obviously there was no choice. I cancelled a day’s work and was set to go.
But I didn’t. I still don’t feel entirely safe visiting my mother. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have COVID-19, but that isn’t 100 per cent certain. I’m even less sure that my brother and sister aren’t carriers.

(Read the full column)

Oh, so you think you know us olds?

Published: The Line (PDF)
August 11, 2020
1116 words

A few months ago my wife Susan and I travelled to Vancouver Island to meet a breeder of Great Dane puppies. After decades of rescuing dogs and cats, we had decided that it was time to finally splurge and adopt the dog of our dreams.

We met the breeder, and his Danes, and his puppies, and spoke at length about our experience with dogs, our training as dog handlers, and about the life that we expected to offer our new pet. Even though his prices were higher than some breeders, we were ready to pay it. These were lovely dogs.
We returned home and waited for the email telling us when our puppy was born. And waited. And waited.

After the breeder ignored us for more than a month, we finally put the pieces together: he had decided that we were too old to adopt a dog. Our income, experience, and knowledge meant nothing because we had grey hair – especially since he had said his “best” puppies were all reserved for cool young couples living in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown neighbourhood.

In an age when almost everyone accepts that you can’t refuse people service on the basis of race, religion, culture, or disability; when right-wing pundits cry in their beer because they’re expected to be respectful of people who are different from them; when #MeToo, and #BLM, and Trans rights are part of the public discourse, there’s still one group that you can mock, insult, and discriminate against: old people.

On one day it’s oh-so-cool tech gurus complaining how they need to dumb-down products because old people can’t understand computers and smart phones. That might include the people who literally invented the Internet and personal computing. They’re now in their sixties and seventies.

On another it’s being ignored at a local restaurant because the servers believe that Old People don’t tip. (We do. Usually 20%. Unless you ignore us.) Incidentally, the American AARP claims old people tip more.

The most absurd are thirty-year-olds who apologize all over themselves for dropping a “fuck” into conversation as if we’re poor innocents that will be shocked into a heart attack if we hear a “curse-word.” That wasn’t true when I was 20, and it’s sure not true now. I grew up with George Carlin’s “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” so you’re not about to shock me.

Every few years a movie or TV series will appear that tells of an older (invariably widowed) couple who fall in love. It will be a comedy because obviously old people falling in love is just ridiculous. Their children will be very concerned because, well, their parents are OLD people. And the writers won’t dwell on sex because 70 year old people don’t do that, and besides, it would be gross!

Still, I’ll take that bad romance over the inevitable inspirational stories about people 60, 70, or 90-years-old who run a marathon, hike the West Coast trail, or climb Mount Everest. Or get a law degree, or get elected to office, or do important scientific research. Or get married.

“Look Martha! That old person is doing stuff that young people usually do!” Or “Isn’t that sweet, that old guy just kissed that old woman.” Or “Wow, she’s 60, and just started a business!”

Well, big whoop-di-do.

I’ll actually place the blame for these prejudices at the feet of the media, and especially advertising. Whether it’s the sheer inanity of Norwich Union’s 1990 “It’s Patrick He Took Out Life Insurance!” ad series, or the infomercials for Acorn stair lifts and walk-in bath tubs, the truth is that advertisers of all stripes portray older people as infirm, often confused, and not very bright — yet loaded with cash to spend on junk that claims to improve their lifestyle.
Contrast that with the image of older people presented by retirement communities and the government: happy healthy Senior Citizens, with (moderately) active lives, great big smiles, and some kind of unspecified comfortable income that lets them relax, dress well, and take cruises to Alaska. Ah yes, those fabled days of happy retirement!

That picture ignores the hard reality that not every old person is enjoying that happy, healthy lifestyle. The government’s own figures show that about 5% of the senior community lives in poverty, and while those statistics do suggest that the elderly are wealthier than many working-age people and their children, the truth is that many of us continue to work just to make ends meet.
Unlike younger people — who still enjoy health, energy and time to get ahead — many older people are forced into retirement with no real hope of escaping poverty.

Then there’s the matter of healthcare. Being an old patient means that your busy life is not a priority. Everyone in health care assumes that you can be scheduled to whatever time is convenient for the doctors or nurses. Surely you’re not holding down a job anymore? More frightening is the growing sense that there are some medical procedures that you’re just not offered because of age. Then there are the frank statements by doctors who warn that, in the face of a shortage of ICU and ventilators, elderly people will not get access to life-saving interventions.

The picture of the cute, befuddled, but loveable old senior, working the garden of the (fully paid for) family home with no worries beyond the next bingo session at the community hall is nonsense. We have responsibilities to our families; we struggle to pay our bills, just like everybody else.

But it’s this nonsense that provides cover for governments that don’t want to provide pensions that meet the poverty line.

I’ll acknowledge that some old people are doddering old fools. The secret is that they’ve always been doddering fools. I’ve known people that were “old” at age 25, with a boring job, a boring house in the suburbs, and a boring minivan.
Stop and talk to the old people that you do know. Don’t ask about grandchildren or Facebook: ask about how little they get from their pension, or how much of that money goes to medicine and health care. Find out where they’re cutting corners to cover the rent increases every year.

Armed with that information, ask yourself if the pensions and services we’re offering are enough for older people that haven’t had the luck to build up healthy RRSPs or real estate holdings. This matters because sooner or later it’s going to be you that needs them. In the meantime wise up to the truth that the 70 year old you saw in the park could easily be a friend, a business partner, or even a lover — if you could get past your prejudices.

 

Developers face challenges building in Vancouver

Published: Fortune.com (PDF)
May 30, 2020
628 words

Catalyst Project 600 Queens West

Greater Vancouver is one of North America’s toughest housing markets, with expensive real estate and a significant shortage of affordable rental units. Even though local governments acknowledge the problem, the property developers who want to build multiple-unit housing often face pushback from municipal councils and local activists.

The North Shore of Vancouver is home to three suburban municipalities: West Vancouver, with its 10,000-square-foot monster mansions, and the two North Vancouvers: the densified City of North Vancouver, nestled against the waterfront, and the largely single-family suburban District of North Vancouver which surrounds it.

The current North Vancouver District council was elected in 2018, and since then every proposal for multifamily housing, including rental, has been defeated, postponed, or rejected. Local developers are making hard decisions to keep their businesses moving forward at a time when the municipality is blocking every housing development that comes before them.

Read the full article.

Forget Toilet Paper, We Bought a Bidet

Published: Asparagus (PDF)
Summer/Fall 2019
April 30, 2020
628 words

Pandemic-induced shortages inspired our family to go paperless in the bathroom, and we’re not alone.

 

Three weeks into the coronavirus crisis, we were down to our last roll of toilet paper. My British-born wife Susan said, “We’re not going to see paper in the stores. Let’s buy a bidet.” I guess I must have made a face, because her next comment was, “You are so Canadian. Afraid to try anything new”…

Well, now I know better! I learned that “bidet“ is actually a generic term for a variety of devices. As well as standalone porcelain fixtures, it can be applied to: the high-tech Japanese toilet seats that not only wash but also dry you; plastic squirt bottles designed for the same purpose; and hand-held sprayers that attach to your toilet water supply. I also now know that a bidet is not a toilet at all, it’s only used for cleaning yourself. And I’ve learned that after using it you’ll be wet, in need of a handy towel or toilet paper.

Read the full article here.

It’s Too Late For Us To Fight Climate Change. Instead, Here’s How We’ll Spend Our Lives.

Published: Huffington Post
February 16, 2020
700 words

Barry Rueger looking out over the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island in Ucluelet, British Columbia. 

(Note to commenters: This column has generated a significant amount of email and feedback. All comments are moderated.  Climate science deniers will simply be deleted and blocked.  Anyone rep[lying with “OK Boomer” will be asked for a 1000 words explaining how they came to that assessment.)

Last year was when the endless bush fires in Australia convinced me and my wife, Susan, that climate change was unstoppable. It’s also when we realized that we likely will avoid seeing the worst of the climate emergency.

At 64 and 74 years of age, my wife and I believe there’s a good chance that we’ll be gone before coastal cities are flooded, the ice caps have melted, and the planet descends into a “Mad Max” dystopia. We would like to think that this isn’t what the future has in store, but the intransigence of almost all governments to actually slow carbon emissions leaves little doubt that things are unlikely to turn around.

One of the things that age gives you is a sense of history, a feeling that you’ve seen patterns repeat and that you can see where things are heading in the near future. Over and over again, we’ve seen corporations and governments ignore the people they should protect in order to line their own pockets. What has changed now is that they’re sacrificing an entire planet instead of a town or a country. I would like to believe that the younger people marching with Greta Thunberg could change that, but honestly I can’t see it happening.

Read more.

Do we need CanCon for print media?

Published: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (En français aussi)
February 4, 2020
1211 words

The Canadian content regulations established by the CRTC in 1971 played a major part in building our homegrown music industry. What would happen if we applied those principles to Canada’s news media sector?

The Top Thirty playlist for Vancouver's CKLG radio station in June 1973.In my hometown of Kelowna, B.C., in 1970, you bought your records at the Music Box store on Ellis Street. Each week you’d travel downtown to choose from the new 45s and albums that you’d heard on the local radio station. And while you were there you’d pick up the latest list of the top 30 records being played on Vancouver’s powerhouse station CKLG.

Looking at those old charts today, you’d be struck by one thing: aside from an occasional appearance by Anne Murray or the Guess Who, you would almost never see a Canadian artist in the Top 30. The charts were dominated by American and English musicians. The assumption at CKLG, and among its listeners, was that popular music came from those places, not from Canada.

Because there was little airplay for our musicians, there was also very little recording industry infrastructure in Canada. Becoming successful in music back then meant going to the U.S. to record, work and live. Today, by contrast, it’s hard to keep track of all of the Canadian artists who enjoy successful careers here and abroad. Everyone from Drake on down is able to record here and build a global profile without leaving the country. That wouldn’t have happened without Canadian content regulations.

Read the full article.

Why some British Columbians won’t buy legal weed

Published: TheGrowthOp (PostMedia)
January 16, 2020
700 words

“At 5:30 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday night, The Dispensary — one of Vancouver’s oldest grey market cannabis stores — is doing booming business. Dozens of people stop in to pick up cannabis flower, edibles, and other cannabis products. Not one of their customers seem concerned that the store isn’t licensed by the provincial government.”

Read More.