Fair Wage Initiative Repealed

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After weeks of demonstrations and a hearing that lasted 16 hours — until 3 a.m. on Sept. 17 — the D.C. Council on Tuesday, Oct. 2, voted 8 to 5 to repeal Initiative 77, which would have raised the minimum wage for the District’s tipped employees to match that of non- tipped employees by 2026.

The initiative passed, with 56 percent of voters in favor, in D.C.’s June 9 primary election.But the yes-votes represented less than 10 percent of the total electorate. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Mayor Muriel Bowser had both gone on record favoring
repeal. Georgetown’s Council representative Jack Evans had told The Georgetowner weeks ago: “Don’t worry. The initiative vote will be repealed.”

The repeal requires a second affirmative vote later in the month before being signed into law by the mayor. Emergency legislation was also passed to prevent Initiative 77 from taking effect on Oct. 9.

The initiative was part of a state-by-state “One Fair Wage” campaign sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a pro-union group that is seeking to impose a minimum wage for all service personnel, including tipped workers, nationwide. Currently, D.C.’s tipped employees must receive a fixed hourly wage of $3.75 and a guaranteed hourly wage of $15, with the “credit” balance to be made up by the employer if not earned in tips as recorded on credit-card payments.

Complaints that some employers don’t honor the credit wage were addressed by a compromise amendment introduced by Council members Elissa Silverman and Mary Cheh. Ward 3’s Cheh was the only elected official to publicly support Initiative 77 before the June primary. The compromise measure failed, also by an 8-5 vote. But the repeal bill that passed included concessions requiring employers to use a third-party payroll system to report wage information and to undergo training on sexual harassment and wage-theft laws.

Hundreds of tipped workers turned out to support the repeal of Initiative 77 under the“Save Our Tips” banner, arguing that the initiative that would raise prices at the expense of their tips. Some make up to six-figure incomes in D.C., where there are comparatively few chain restaurants, ROC United’s main national target.

“The ROC coalition was weighing options after the repeal, including a push for anotherballot initiative or lawsuits,” said ROC-DC Director Diana Ramirez. “We might even consider mounting recall campaigns against Council members who voted to repeal Initiative 77.”

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