A battle is brewing over this June’s ballot initiative to match the minimum wage for waiters, baristas and the like with that of non-tipped employees. Initiative 77 would give tipped employees the same minimum income as other D.C. workers by 2026, but could eliminate most tipping at local eateries and negatively impact D.C.’s hospitality industry.
At present, the base wage of tipped employees in the District of Colombia is $3.33 an hour, far below the official minimum wage for other D.C. wage earners of $12.50, set to rise to $15 an hour by 2020. It’s legal because tipped employees are expected to earn substantial tips that are counted (and required to be declared to tax authorities) as income. If District voters pass Initiative 77 on June 19, however, the minimum wage for tipped employees would gradually rise to the standard D.C. minimum by 2026.
This isn’t the first time such a ballot initiative has been tried.
In 2016, the minimum wage for tipped employees was $2.77. The D.C. chapter of the Working Families Party campaigned to place a two-tier minimum-wage initiative on the November 2016 ballot: $15 by 2020 for all; $5 for tipped employees by 2025. But the president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce at the time, Harry Wingo, filed a lawsuit claiming that the petition was invalid. D.C. Superior Court ruled in Wingo’s favor.
That ruling was later reversed, and on June 7, 2016, the District Council voted unanimously to increase the city’s minimum hourly wage for non-tipped workers to $15 and for tipped workers to $5 by 2020.
The new 2018 initiative for tipped employees is sponsored by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, D.C. “In this Me Too moment, in this Time’s Up moment, we have to stand up for women and empower women and really call this two-tier wage system for what it is — a source of sexual harassment,” said Diana Ramirez, the organization’s director.
Approval of the initiative would force restaurant owners “to reduce hours and staff size, increase menu prices, replace tipping with a set hourly wage and, unfortunately, many times close their restaurants,” said Kathy E. Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Georgetowners on both sides of the issue are planning meetings in the next two months to rally support for and against the initiative.