Initiative 77: DC voters approve minimum wage increase for tipped workers

Waiter Tim McGrane clears a table after the lunch rush. He is among those concerned that raising the minimum wage would mean a higher bill for customers and a lower tip. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON — Voters have approved Initiative 77, the contentious ballot measure to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, in D.C.’s primary Tuesday.

Tipped workers in D.C. are paid a base wage of $3.33 per hour, and tips are expected to push earnings to at least the District’s minimum wage, which is currently $12.50 an hour. The employer is required to make up the difference if the tipped worker doesn’t earn at least the minimum wage.

With the minimum wage scheduled to rise to $15 an hour by 2020, Initiative 77 intends to change the pay system so that tipped workers are paid the same as other workers by 2026.

The base pay for tipped workers is already set to increase to $5 an hour by 2020.

Supporters of Initiative 77 believe the measure would give tipped workers a steady income and empower workers against mistreatment from customers. Opponents of the measure argue that the pay increase for tipped workers would burden restaurant owners with extra costs, and that most tipped workers in D.C. often make more than minimum wage already.

New York-based nonprofit group Restaurant Opportunities Center United is behind Initiative 77. It argues that tipped workers — mostly women and workers of color — live in poverty at twice the rate of the general population.

“We need stability, we need a base wage directly from the employer, and we shouldn’t have to rely on customers’ whims to make a base wage,” said Restaurant Opportunities Center of D.C. Director Diana Ramirez.

Ramirez said members of the group are mostly women, people of color and immigrants who are not making ends meet with the current base wage. She added that women tipped workers will no longer have to put up with sexual harassment from customers to secure better tips.

“Having employers pay their workers is the right thing to do,” Ramirez said, pointing to positive effects in states that already pay all workers the same minimum wage, such as California and Oregon.

And, in support of Initiative 77, the One Fair Wage DC Coalition said in a statement Tuesday night:

“We congratulate D.C. for taking this major step forward and call on [D.C.] Council to respect the will of the voters. Now that the voters have spoken, we stand ready to dedicate significant resources to working with local restaurant owners and the restaurant association to ease the implementation of Initiative 77.”

John Guggenmos, a co-owner of several D.C. nightlife establishments and part of the “NO2DC77” campaign against Initiative 77, said the measure on the ballot already began as a “confusing issue.”

“You have an initiative that’s poorly laid out — it’s just very misleading. It also was on a primary. Turnouts are historically low for a primary,” Guggenmos said. “I’m disappointed for all of our tipped employees that really did just work so hard.”

He added, “The public is going to pay more. Our servers are going to get hurt, and I just have to hope that people will still come.”

The Save Our Tips campaign, a group of tipped workers and other members of the restaurant industry against Initiative 77, said in a statement Tuesday night:

“We’re as concerned tonight as we’ve been throughout this campaign about the negative repercussions of passing Initiative 77. As soon as it goes into effect, employers grappling with a shocking rise in labor costs will begin the process of making some hard decisions, which will involve menu pricing, staffing levels and how gratuities are collected. All of which they know will have a negative impact on their employees’ take home pay and the quality of service that has made the District a destination food city.”

Reaction on social media after the results were announced was certainly mixed.

 

The D.C. Council could still block or change the measure; a majority of D.C. council members and Mayor Muriel Bowser have come out against Initiative 77.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty, Rick Massimo, Dick Uliano and Michelle Basch contributed to this report.


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