D.C. to Vote on Whether Servers Should Get Higher Minimum Wage

This summer, Washington, D.C., could make it law that people who work in the service industry earn a higher base pay in exchange for shifting the way restaurants distribute tips.

The D.C. Board of Elections certified an initiative to be on the June 19 primary election ballot, which would create a flat minimum wage.

Jessica Yanez of Restaurant Opportunities Centers said when she used to work at a diner, customers would sexually harass her and she felt like she had to accept it.

“The rent's not going to wait, groceries aren't going to wait,” she said. “So I'm just going to put up with it this one time, make my tips that I need to make, and it'll be fine.”

She's one of the people behind the bill to raise the tipped minimum wage. She said it's only fair that servers make consistent money.

“The landlord doesn't say, ‘Well, maybe you can make up your rent next week when you have a better shift,’” Yanez said.

The way the system works right now, if the tipped wage plus the tips don't add up to the D.C. minimum wage of $12.50, restaurants are supposed to make up the difference.

But Yanez said it can be tough for servers to ask their bosses for more money.

At Proper 21, a restaurant on F Street in Northwest, management said they already take good care of their workers, and raising wages would be tough for business.

“The costs of the plate would go up so significantly that we would lose a lot of diners,” Managing Director Steve Forbes said.

Proper 21 bartender Annalise Rocafort said she takes pride in connecting with customers and earning tips.

“If tips start to not matter as much, I feel like service is going to start to go down,” she said.

She said the current tipping system has worked out well for her and customers are usually fair.

“I feel like it mostly averages out, so when I have a few slow weeks, it gets a little tough, but then right after that you have a few really good weeks,” she said.

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