Do I Have to Tip My Movers?
Are service staff outside of the restaurant industry entitled to customer tips?
Few things are as ulcer-inducing as packing up decades-worth of belongings and shipping them to a new address. The emotional stress of hauling sentimental items is only rivaled by the physical toll of carrying all of grandma’s knickknacks from old home to U-Haul to new home.
I had the (dis)pleasure of moving last week. Though my new town is a mere fifteen minutes from my old one, mountains of cardboard boxes and plastic tubs nudged my family towards hiring some movers.
The moving company is an ingenious idea. A team of professionals makes the burden of changing addresses negligible with a few hours of your time and a couple hand trucks. They are packing professionals who will guarantee the safe arrival of your goods to their intended destination.
We employed three guys and a truck. The job was two hours out, two hours in at $130 an hour, a flat fee of $350, and a $50 charge for holding our stuff overnight.
In case you weren’t keeping track, that is a grand total of $920. A fair price to save on the headache of dropping a box of glass dishware or inducing a hernia while carrying a sofa. It was a dream scenario, save for the last words the lead mover said to me.
“Eh, do you have something for me and my crew?”
Maybe it was the nonchalant way he asked, a leading question slathered in a thick European accent, that immediately put a bad taste in my mouth. Or it was the fact that I had been pretending that I wouldn’t have to tip the movers following four hours of physical labor. Either way, I was almost repulsed to think that on top of a near grand worth of moving costs, the laborers were asking for a little scratch off top.
Of course, I relented, realizing that the movers now had an intimate familiarity with the layout of my new home, inside and out. I threw in an extra $60, twenty for each worker. As the movers loaded up their carts and rugs into the truck and drove off, I couldn’t help but wonder:
Do you have to tip your movers?
Why do we tip?
The United States’ infatuation with tipping workers is a point of contention for natives and foreigners alike. On Reddit and Quora, users regularly create threads questioning why Americans pay extra for standard service. Waiter brings your food? Tip. Car washer dries your vehicle? Tip. Hotel cleaning staff swaps your sheets? Tip.
According to Michael Lynn, Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing at Cornell University, tipping in the US stems from a few factors.
For starters, market competition, which directs price fluctuations for goods and services, lends itself to a tip-heavy society.
“So the existence of tipping allows restaurants to pay their servers less,” Lynn told NPR. “And because restaurants pay their servers less, they can also charge lower prices on their menus. And customers, you know, really like lower menu prices.”
Then there is the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which mandates the minimum wage for nonexempt employees. Tipped workers don’t fall under this coverage. Rather, the law defines a federal $2.13 per hour threshold for workers accruing more than $30 of tips in a month.
The rationale is that employee wages plus tips must add up to at least $2.13 per hour. Otherwise the employer must make up the difference.
Even with that safeguard, the last I checked, $30 in a month isn’t anywhere near a living wage in the 21st century. US or otherwise.
The financial game of keep away employers play with tipped employees is exacerbated by the 1990s addendum to the FLSA: the Small Business Job Protection Act (SBJP). Sponsored by Rep. Bill Archer (R-TX), the SBJP simultaneously increased the federal minimum wage to $5.15 per hour, while blocking tipped employees from future minimum wage increases.
Lynn also noted that tipping is something Americans just do. “[O]nce you get started on tipping, competitive forces make it almost impossible to go back.”
What about Movers?
In a vacuum of underpaid waitstaff, tipping is laced with altruism. It’s a gesture of good will by those who can afford to do so. Tipping is as much a social currency as it is a monetary one.
That still doesn’t answer the question: why am I tipping my movers?
According to Dr. Sylvia A. Allegretto, Economist and Co-Chair for the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, little is known about tipping movers.
“Tip culture is weird and doesn’t make much sense,” Allegretto said in an email. “We tip some occupations and not other ones.”
“It isn’t tips we should get away from — it is not a problem if someone wants to pay a worker more for whatever reason.”
Rather, the low pay, low quality jobs are the devils behind workers needing tips to make ends meet.
While the reasons to tip your waiter — low pay, no benefits, hourly volatility — are clear, what about higher paid workers, like movers?
Salary data available on Payscale.com suggests that the average moving company employee earns approximately $14 per hour. That’s twice the federal minimum wage and nearly six times the minimum tipped employee wage.
Assuming these are full-time movers, with healthcare, vacation and sick time, the monetary forces that drive tipping restaurant staff shouldn’t apply to other service professionals.
But that’s the problem: we can’t assume. Allegretto contends that there is little research behind tipping practices for workers outside of full-service restaurants.
“These workers are not designated as tipped workers as their jobs do not pass the FLSA (low-bar) test,” Alegretto explained. “The person in charge of the move typically hires very low wage workers on the spot — not full-time company workers — especially for moves that aren’t local.”
She added that a driver might travel upwards of 1,000 miles, after which he’ll rely on day workers to unload the truck.
And even if you tip the driver, his workers might not see any of those tips.
These variables add up to a wildly inconsistent pay rate, movers and waitstaff alike.
“The National Restaurant Association is a very powerful lobby, which is why the $2.13 subminimum wage is still in existence. Why pay wages when your customers can!” Allegretto said.
The industry might be set up to stiff workers but that doesn’t mean customers have to pile on them as well. So, tip your waitstaff, movers, and other service professionals. The extra cash is hardly a handout.