DC lawmakers, voters at odds over raising minimum wage for tipped workers

WASHINGTON — The contentious issue of raising the minimum wage for tipped workers has already been approved by D.C. voters, but city lawmakers on Friday vehemently expressed intentions to overturn the measure.

Initiative 77, approved in June, will incrementally raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 by 2025.

Opponents argue workers could subsequently be laid off because businesses will need to compensate for added salary costs. They also believe tipped workers, whose pay frequently exceeds minimum wage, will lose money because customers typically don’t tip when a service charge is added to bills.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser thinks voters approving the measure didn’t understand its potential impact.

“I believe firmly that they didn’t go to the polls and vote to decrease anyone’s salary,” Bowser said. “Sometimes, the council gets it wrong, and sometimes, the voters get it wrong and in both cases, it’s up to the council to fix it.”

The Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 to repeal Initiative 77 gets a first vote before the council next Tuesday.

Seven of 12 D.C. council members signed the proposal, including Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilman Jack Evans, who joined Bowser on Friday.

“We were just talking with workers from five different restaurants before we came down here and they’re all saying the same thing. They will be hurt by this. And we should not be in the business of hurting workers,” Mendelson said.

He also recalled how a 16-hour public hearing on the matter a few months ago had 250 people sign up to speak; two-thirds who Mendelson said were fearful their jobs would be hurt and their wages reduced.

Councilman Jack Evans said he routinely encounters anxious workers in restaurants he frequents, who plead with him to repeal the measure. “And not just the waiters or the bartenders, people who actually work in the kitchens and say … ‘Please repeal this,'” Evans said.

Initiative 77 supporters believe paying everyone the same minimum wage is more fair than a two-tier system that sets tipped workers’ pay at $3.89 an hour and relies on employers to supplement that pay if tips don’t boost earnings to meet the minimum wage. They also argue that eliminating tips shields workers from discrimination and sexual harassment.

One of the restaurant workers who joined the lawmakers’ news conference said that as a black woman, she can tell you there’s no industry in the world where raising wages will decrease sexual harassment and discrimination.

“This is not an organically generated issue from the (local) restaurant industry,” Bowser said, adding that she thinks it’s another example of groups using D.C. as a Petri dish for policies other towns might need. “This is not an issue for our town. And, we don’t need it.”

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