DC Lawmakers Move to Repeal Minimum Wage Increase Voters Approved

A majority of the elected officials who govern D.C. proposed a bill Tuesday to override the will of voters and not increase the minimum wage for workers who earn tips.

Seven D.C. Council members backed a bill to repeal Initiative 77, which requires that businesses phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage for tipped workers. The legislation affects servers, bartenders, salon workers and parking attendants, among others. 

The bill was introduced at the Council Secretary's office — not at Tuesday's public meeting. Activists who support the initiative voiced frustration that the bill was introduced quietly.

"They're disrespecting the democratic process and they're disrespecting the voters," said Diana Ramirez, who campaigned for Initiative 77 with the Restaurant Opportunity Center of D.C.

It's routine for bills to be introduced through the Council Secretary office, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

"I think that restaurant associates and groups like that are behind it," said bartender Venorica Tucker. She called the introduction underhanded and sneaky.

Last month, 55 percent of voters approved the measure, despite opposition from restaurant industry groups, many servers and Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Mendelson said Monday that he believes the wording of the question on the ballot was misleading.

"It's a bad bill," said Luis Valle, a bartender and manager at Martin's Tavern in Georgetown. "We have seen some people come in and cross out the tips."

Valle said some customers believe that servers are already paid $15 an hour — which is incorrect.

Currently, tipped workers make at least $3.33 an hour, an exemption from the $12.50 minimum wage for other employees. Employers are supposed to make up the difference if tipped employees don’t earn the minimum wage.

Under Initiative 77, the exemption would end by 2025, and employers would be required to pay every worker $15 an hour. Employees could still accept tips.

The voters did say yes, but the D.C. Council can modify or overturn any ballot initiative. 

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and the National Restaurant Association contributed about $150,000 to a group fighting the initiative, Save Our Tips, News4 reported

Foodservice PAC, largely funded by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, spent $1,500 in March supporting a fundraiser for Mendelson, financial disclosures show

That group, along with and EDENS, a real estate company that owns properties in D.C. including Union Market, helped to organize the rally where Mendelson announced his plan to overturn Initiative 77.

The Council will have a hearing on the issue in the fall. Then, any legislation must be approved twice before heading to the mayor's desk.

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