The long-anticipated D.C. Council meeting to consider a proposal to repeal Initiative 77 — the so-called Fair Wage Act for the District’s tipped employees, voted in by less than 10 percent of the electorate at the June 9 primary election — started at 11 a.m. on Sept. 13. Up to 200 advocates, pro and con, were expected to speak until late in the evening. Far more turned out, packing the room, and the meeting lasted until 3 a.m.
Most in attendance agreed that opponents outnumbered supporters. By the end of the evening, it appeared that Initiative 77 in its current form, requiring tipped employees to receive the same minimum wage as other employees by 2026, would be repealed.
Supporters mainly represented the Fair Wage Coalition, particularlyservice-worker advocacy groups like Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which has gone state by state, seeking to push the act onto state ballots. ROC United maintains that the initiative would not only offer tipped workers a stabile income, but would prevent workers, especially women of color, from being harassed on the job. It also could act as a safeguard against wage theft and tip inequality based on race.
But tipped employees representing D.C.’s “Save Our Tips” coalition contended that Initiative 77 would lead to a pay cut for many who earn good incomes on tips in the District’s thriving restaurant culture. All agreed that restaurant and bar owners would raise the price of meals or add surcharges (or both) to cover the guaranteed minimum wage. That could likely cut into their tips — or cause D.C.’s sophisticated restaurant patrons not to tip at all.
While this has not yet happened in San Francisco or Seattle, where the Fair Wage Act has been passed, some asserted that Washington, D.C., is different. If tips are threatened or eliminated here, there are plenty of opportunities for tipped employees to work in nearby Maryland or Virginia, where many reside anyway. And the District has relatively few chain restaurants, where the harassment of tipped employees is said to take place on a national scale. Also, with raised awareness of the law stating that employers must pay tipped employees the higher minimum wage if their tips, as recorded on credit-card charges, don’t reach that level, it was argued that it would be difficult for employers to evade this requirement.
Seven Council members, a good majority, indicated that they would vote for repeal. But no date for a vote was scheduled. Many think it will happen next month, prior to national midterm elections in November.