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Waffle House will raise wages for tipped workers amid labor advocacy efforts

Popular fast-food chain Waffle House is raising wages for its more than 40,000 employees, a move that comes after a year of persistent pressure from labor unions.

Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers III spoke to employees in a video announcement, announcing that starting this month, base wages will rise to a minimum of $3 an hour. The company plans to gradually raise base wages to $5.25 an hour by June 2026. Rogers said Waffle House will also implement wage increases over the next two to three years through seniority and shift pay. Waffle House will cover the wage increases through higher menu prices, Rogers explained.

On November 8, Waffle House employees from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina gathered in front of the company’s headquarters in Norcross, Georgia. (Service Employees International Union/Fox News)

The wage adjustment came after more than a year of public campaigning by the Southern Service Employees Union, a union that advocates for low-wage service workers, which pressured Waffle House through strikes, letters and petitions.

The Southern Service Workers Union continues to campaign for a $25 hourly wage, round-the-clock security for employees, and an end to mandatory meal deductions. In March, the union filed a petition with the Ministry of Labor, requesting an investigation into the policy of deducting mandatory meal costs from employees’ paychecks.

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The wage increase marks an important new phase in Waffle House’s history: “This is the largest additional investment in our employees in the entire 68-year history of Waffle House,” Rogers said.

Rogers stressed that all employees at Waffle House’s roughly 2,000 locations will benefit from the upcoming wage increases. The chain is adjusting its wage policy to standardize base hourly wages. But base wages don’t include tips, and wages vary based on each state’s minimum wage laws. In addition, some rural markets will see slower wage increases than urban areas.

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Wage laws in some states, especially in the South, allow employers to pay service workers hourly wages significantly below the federal minimum wage. In the service industry, minimum wage requirements are often met by combining a base wage with tips from customers. If reported tips fall short of the minimum wage, employers must make up the difference. If reported tips fall short of the minimum wage, employers must make up the difference.

Service and restaurant workers often rely on tips for a significant portion of their income. According to the most recent data from the IRS, workers received more than $38 billion in tips in the 2018 tax year. Tipped workers earned an average of $6,000 extra on top of their base pay in 2018.

Waffle House locations in North Carolina

Waffle House restaurants are known for being open 24 hours a day. (istock/iStock)

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Rogers acknowledged the importance of raising wages, given service workers’ reliance on tips. “This is a big deal, a huge additional investment,” he said in a video to Waffle House employees. “You don’t see a lot of people doing this in our industry.”

Since its founding in Georgia in 1955, Waffle House has expanded as a diner-style restaurant chain to at least 26 states, mostly in the South and Midwest. All Waffle House restaurants are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.