DC Council could soon take step toward repealing minimum-wage increase

WASHINGTON — After voters approved Initiative 77 in June, D.C. Council members may soon take the first step toward repealing the ballot measure that increases the minimum wage for tipped workers in the District.

The initiative will raise the current $3.33 minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 by 2026 to match the city’s standard minimum wage. Right now, restaurants are allowed to pay workers at the lower rate as long as they reach minimum wage with tips. If Initiative 77 is made law, though, that would no longer be allowed.

This ballot measure comes after a law was signed in 2016 that will raise the minimum wage for non-tipped workers to $15 by 2020.

A bill to repeal the measure is being discussed and could be introduced during a council meeting on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The measure is expected to be sponsored by at least six council members — including Mendelson — who have publicly denounced the measure.

Opponents believe the measure will force restaurants to raise menu prices, reduce their staff and lead to less take-home pay for servers. Supporters argue that the initiative will reduce worker mistreatment and give them a steady income.

While many members of the D.C. government have spoken out against the initiative, Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh remains in support of the ballot measure. Cheh said she has heard the rumors that a repeal bill could be coming, but she has also heard rumblings in the Wilson Building of a compromise bill as well.

“I think there could be a compromise,” Cheh said.

While Cheh wouldn’t support a complete repeal of Initiative 77, she said she would support a bill that would extend the period in which the increase for tipped workers takes place.

“If I could find a place where the restaurant industry would not be harmed, I certainly don’t want that to happen, but at the same time the principle of the initiative could be sustained, I could see supporting that,” Cheh said.

Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, doesn’t think a middle ground can be found regarding this ballot measure.

“Thousands of restaurant operators and tipped employees came out against this.” she said. “We don’t think that there is any room for a compromise.”

In a statement, the group behind Initiative 77, One Fair Wage DC, criticized any effort toward a repeal.

“It would be deeply undemocratic for the council to overturn the will of the people,” said spokesperson Diana Ramirez. “DC voters don’t like it when Republicans in Congress do it, and we trust Council will not stoop to that level.”

The D.C. Council has repealed voter-approved ballot measures in the past: In 2001, a term-limits bill was halted by the body.

If a repeal bill is introduced on Tuesday, it is not expected to be labeled an emergency bill, which means any action on it wouldn’t come until this fall.

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