Voter beware! At first glance, Initiative 77 on the June 19 D.C. primary ballot seems like a “no-brainer” yes vote. After all, it aims to guarantee that by July 1, 2020, the same minimum wage of $15 an hour would, by law, apply to all full-time employees in Washington, D.C. Labeled “One Fair Wage,” the measure is directed specifically at waiters and other restaurant and bar servers, whose official minimum wage at present is $3.33 an hour.
Yet almost all waitstaff employees in Georgetown are sporting buttons and posting signs in their restaurants, cafes and bars to “Vote No on Initiative 77.” Why?
For one thing, every tipped employee in the District already is guaranteed a $15-an-hour minimum wage by law. Employers must pay every tipped employee on their staffs the balance, if any, between the $3.33 minimum and what he or she gets in tips paid by credit-card customers — who make up some 90 percent of all restaurant customers.
It is also a fact that most tipped employees in Washington’s vibrant eatery economy are doing very well. Many full-time tipped employees in Georgetown bring home annual earnings of more than $50,000 a year thanks to tips, according to their employers. Some of them earn six figures.
Initiative 77 is sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national advocacy organization seeking to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers, especially in chain restaurants. ROC United argues that the low minimum wage for tipped employees makes incomes too unpredictable, that workers should not be dependent on the generosity of strangers, that the two-tiered wage system is inherently discriminatory toward persons of color and that the system encourages women to put up with sexual harassment from customers.
The Georgetowner has listened to the arguments on both sides and believes strongly that Initiative 77 should be defeated. It’s not only unnecessary, but it could greatly harm the growing restaurant, cafe and bar scene that is a daily part of the lives of many Georgetown residents and visitors. The District and Georgetown are significantly smaller than and different from the states like Washington where ROC United has been successful in passing the initiative.
Three reasons why The Georgetowner believes Initiative 77 won’t work and could be harmful here:
- Tipped employees in D.C. are employed almost entirely by local enterprises, not chains. Their success depends on friendly, high-quality service that brings in repeat business and good tips.
- If tips were removed, the best tipped employees could easily go work in neighboring Virginia and Maryland, where they would continue to earn good tips while the District restaurants and customers would suffer their loss.
- The cost of dining out would inevitably go up in the District if employers had to pay a minimum of $15 per hour up front to waitstaff and bartenders. They would probably add a service fee on top to cover it.
The Georgetowner agrees with most of the tipped employees and their employers in our neighborhood. Vote no on Initiative 77.