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DC Council threatened with political backlash if they repeal Initiative 77

The DC Council could be poised to overturn Initiative 77, a contentious measure approve by voters in the June primary which would mandate employers to pay the standard minimum wage to employees who rely on tips to supplement their pay. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Advocates who pushed for the raise of the tipped minimum wage in the District are promising political consequences for council members if they repeal Initiative 77.

The ballot initiative, passed by voters last month, would directly affect the paychecks of tipped workers, such as food servers and bartenders.

Last week, a majority of the D.C. Council unveiled legislation to overturn the measure.

“They will face a huge backlash if they repeal this,” said Diana Ramirez, who leads D.C.’s Restaurant Opportunities Center, a group that advocates for restaurant employees.

“The voters are going to remember,” Ramirez said.  “These council members are going to have to deal with their constituents not being happy with them.”

Currently, employers can pay their tipped workers an hourly minimum wage of $3.89.

Under Initiative 77, business owners would need to raise that dramatically, reaching a minimum of $15 an hour by 2025.

“I understand that the voters passed Initiative 77, and I do not take this lightly,” said council member Brandon Todd. “However, I believe that a policy shift of this magnitude requires deliberation that is more nuanced than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.”

Supporters of Initiative 77 claim it will guarantee that tipped workers receive a fair wage.

Those who oppose the measure have voiced concerns about restaurants having to cut jobs or go out of business due to rising operating costs.

“Too much is at stake to forgo a more thoughtful discussion on alternatives,” Todd said.

But advocates, such as Ramirez, say the council repealing a measure that was passed by the voters would be an “assault” on the democratic process.

“We are going to turn out as many groups and allies as we can to let the council know ‘you don’t get to overturn the will of the people,'” Ramirez said.

Council members are gone for their summer recess, but will return to work in the fall.


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