Dunkin’ shop owners look to adjust tip law

Plan would cut some workers’ pay, suit says

A Legislature hearing is set for today on revising the tips law aimed at quick-service restaurants such as Dunkin’ Donuts. A Legislature hearing is set for today on revising the tips law aimed at quick-service restaurants such as Dunkin’ Donuts. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners are pushing for a change in state law that would allow shift supervisors to share in tip pools with crew members.

Store owners say existing law contains ambiguous language about who is eligible to receive tips, making owners vulnerable to lawsuits over how the money is shared. But workers argue that making supervisors part of the tip pool dilutes crew members’ pay and allows owners to pay supervisors less by offsetting lower salaries with tip earnings.

“Employers want to use the tip pool to fund as many managers as they can, because it will reduce their labor costs,’’ said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer representing Dunkin’ Donuts workers in a class-action lawsuit that seeks to keep supervisors and managers from sharing tips.

But shift supervisors often work side by side with the crew and should be eligible for tips, said Jim Coen, president of DD Independent Franchise Owners Inc., a Bellingham trade group that represents owners of 2,700 Dunkin’ Donuts shops. Shift supervisors generally earn only about 50 cents to $1 an hour more than crew members, Coen said, and don’t have much authority beyond creating the schedule and assigning work.

“That person very often is the one giving you your coffee,’’ he said. “They’re playing a role in the crew, so they should share in the tips.’’

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a hearing today on revising the tips law aimed at quick-service restaurants such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Under current law, workers with “managerial responsibility’’ can’t collect tips, but the law doesn’t define what that responsibility includes. The DD Independent Franchise Owners group, which last year spent $42,000 lobbying state lawmakers, wants to limit the tips exemption to managers with the power to hire and fire, which would exclude shift supervisors.

Without such clarity, fear of lawsuits could lead franchise owners to take away tip jars altogether, supporters of the change say.

Most of the 1,300 franchise-owned Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts don’t have tip jars, according to store owners. But some workers who get tips rely on them and don’t think they should have to share them with managers.

Sarmad Marzuq said that he made about $25 a day in tips in the more than three years he worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Kingston. Marzuq, part of the class action suit, said he would have earned more if the store manager had not taken about $100 a week from the tip jar.

“The only reason I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts was the money plus the tips,’’ said Marzuq, 18, who will be a sophomore at Wentworth Institute of Technology this fall. “It really helped me out for school.’’

Coen, of the franchise owners’ group, said the proposed changes would only apply to shift supervisors and make it clear that store managers are not eligible for tips.

K atie Johnston Chase can be reached at