Muriel Bowser

DC Council Contradicts Voters' Will on Tipped Worker Wages

D.C. voters voted in June to increase tipped workers' wages

What to Know

  • Initiative 77 would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 per hour by 2025. Workers could still receive tips.
  • The D.C. Council took the first step on Tuesday toward repealing the law.
  • Fifty-five percent of voters approved the measure in June, but opponents say the wording was unclear.

Tipped workers won't be getting a planned raise this month after the D.C. Council moved on Tuesday to repeal Initiative 77, a voter-approved ballot initiative slated to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in the District.

Eight D.C. Council members voted to overturn the will of voters: Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), David Grosso (I-At Large), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8).

The Council members who opposed the repeal were Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Robert White (D-At Large). 

Chairman Phil Mendelson sided with groups of servers that have vocally opposed the bill.

"We don't pass minimum wage bills knowing that it will hurt people," Mendelson said.

White stood up for what D.C. residents chose. 

"We cannot reject the will of the voters," he said.

"It sends a message to our residents that their voice just doesn't matter. Their vote doesn't matter," Silverman said.

Opponents say the initiative will hurt restaurant owners and decrease workers' tips. Supporters claim the law protects against discrimination and harassment while possibly bolstering paychecks.

D.C. voters passed Initiative 77 in June. The measure requires restaurants to annually raise the minimum wages of tipped employees by $1.50 until 2025, when the rate is set to match the $15 minimum wage for non-tipped employees. Servers, bartenders, salon workers and parking attendants, among others, could still receive tips. 

The District has hiked its minimum wage since 2014, and it will continue to rise to $15 by 2020. The minimum wage in D.C. is currently $13.25, but tipped employees are exempt and paid just $3.33 hourly. If tipped employees don't earn minimum wage with the addition of their tips, their employers are required to pay the difference.

Individuals for and against Initiative 77 gathered at a contentious Council meeting Tuesday where eight council members voted to repeal the law entirely.

One attendee asked, "Why is your vote more important than our livelihood?"

"Then you should have won the vote," a man replied.

But the will of the voters has not been overturned yet: The Council must vote a second time before the bill is sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser's desk. Bowser has voiced opposition to the bill but also indicated a compromise might be possible.

The Council unanimously approved emergency legislation that stalled the first hike to the minimum wage, which was set to take effect next week.

Last month, seven Council members said the repeal was needed to protect the city's dining industry. The five other Council members suggested a compromise, which may include raising wages over 15 years instead of eight.

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