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$100,000 in grants available to Cleveland restaurants that pay tipped workers at least $15 an hour

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb waits tables at Fat Cats, a Tremont restaurant that is among 20 recipient of a grant for paying tipped employees at least $15 an hour.
Abbey Marshall
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb waits tables at Fat Cats, a Tremont restaurant that is among 20 recipients of a grant for eateries paying tipped employees at least $15 an hour.

Cleveland's Mayor wasn’t at City Hall Thursday.

Instead, Justin Bibb was waiting tables at Fat Cats, a restaurant in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood that will be among 20 eateries committed to paying tipped workers more than minimum wage to receive grants this year.

The city is partnering with wage advocacy groups to provide $100,000 in grants for restaurants that commit to paying a $15 minimum wage to tipped workers.

Service workers like Kent State student Carissa Baer said inflation is one reason minimum wage jobs are not cutting it.

"There are certain thoughts you catch yourself having as a minimum wage worker," she said. "How many tanks of gas did my eight-hour shift buy me? Do I have to take my coworker’s shift to make my rent?"

The grant program, $50,000 of which was funded by the Gund Foundation and led by advocacy group One Fair Wage, will give 20 participating restaurants $5,000 to undergo trainings and programs related to fair wages, equity and recruitment.

“We’ve talked to a lot of business owners, restaurants included, about what they need," said OhioMeansJobs Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Executive Director Michelle Rose. "And what they need is to attract and retain a workforce, which has been especially difficult in the pandemic.”

Bibb announced, to his staff's surprise, that the city would match the $50,000 commitment to bring the total in grants to $100,000. A city spokesperson said they are still determining where that money will come from.

"It's past time we stopped putting profits over people in this city," Bibb said.

To receive the grants, restaurants must commit to paying tipped employees higher than a "subminimum wage" of $10.10 per hour, according to One Fair Wage. The Cambridge-based advocacy group calls for an ideal of $15 per hour wage plus tips. Ohio's minimum wage for tipped employees is $5.05 per hour.

This is the latest effort by the city to improve conditions for workers. Last year, the city passed new laws to increase the penalties for wage theft and payroll fraud on city service contracts and construction. In May, Cuyahoga County passed a similar law.

One Fair Wage Founder Saru Jayaraman said she has her sights set on an initiative on the November 2024 ballot to increase the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2028.

"I'm always going to support our workers across the state," Bibb said when asked if he would endorse that measure.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.