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Lexington server weighs in on worker shortage

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 03, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — From the lens of one Lexington server, the labor shortage restaurants are facing has a lot of complex layers and it's deeper than people just not wanting to work.

Andrew Brockman has been a waiter at restaurants across the bluegrass for eight years.

"I started at Sal's as a server's assistant. My brother worked there, and he got me a job and kind of worked my way up from there," said Brockman.

He truly enjoys what he does, but like many restaurants, his job is also facing a worker shortage. That's putting more strain on him.

"It definitely has made my schedule a lot more busy. But at the same time it's opened up management and other people that you work with to be more understanding. I think the hardest thing about it though is I feel like customers don't understand it yet," said Brockman.

While the shortage has forced him to work harder, he's actually making more money.

"I have more hours, for starters, and at the same time, I'm splitting my things up with less amount of people," Brockman explained.

But he can understand why the job doesn't appear to be attractive. He says it's the culture of relying on tips to really get paid and dealing with unpredictable customers.

"I've never seen my paycheck through serving .You know, it just kind of cancels out through your taxes. You're gonna usually have to owe money back at the end of the year," he said. "It's a it's a very up and down world. You never know what to get. It's definitely not for someone who can break easily."

While there are businesses who have increased wages on their own, the state minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for more than a decade.

For tipped workers like servers, base pay in Kentucky is $2.13 an hour and has been since 1991.

Dave Cooper, senior analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, says that is the real problem.

"Kentucky is one of only about 20 states that still use the federal standard for minimum wages," said Cooper. "So if you're a server in California, you're making $14 an hour out of your paycheck, plus tips on top of that, whereas someone in Lexington, might only be making $2.13 an hour, and hopefully tips are getting up, getting them up to at least 7.25 but, you know in a lot of cases even that doesn't."

Cooper says the argument that prices may increase is valid- but could be worth it in the long run.

"There's a lot of research that shows that when you raise wages, businesses, see some savings from lower turnover workers stay on the job longer, maybe they get better at their jobs," said Cooper.

In the meantime, Brockman says he just hopes the conversation helps everyone involved start to think more about servers.

"Just being thoughtful, I think means the world to all of us," he said.

In 2016, Kentucky's Supreme Court struck down laws in both Louisville and Lexington. They mandated the city's local businesses pay workers at a higher level than the state's minimum wage. While individual businesses can increase wages cities in the commonwealth do not have the authority to raise the minimum wage.