WASHINGTON — For the second time, residents of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly to phase out the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, with 73.9% in favour.
The voting measure, Initiative 82, will gradually increase the current tipped minimum wage of $5.35 per hour until it reaches the district’s standard minimum wage of $16.10 by 2027.
The measure, passed on Nov. 8, is scheduled to take effect after a 30-day congressional review period and is expected to take effect in the spring. And this time the city council apparently does not want to ignore the voters and let them go through with it. Last time, the city’s corporate class got the city council to veto it.
The passage of I-82 marks the second time DC voters have expressed support for the tip increase. The City Council reversed a similar move, Initiative 77, favored by voters in 2018.
This time, the success of the measure relied on a strong network of grassroots organizations campaigning to support workers, despite continued strong opposition from business owners and the restaurant lobby.
“I’m really proud of the way I’ve managed to build a kind of coalition of groups from all shades of the left,” said Ryan O’Leary, a local organizer and former restaurant worker who proposed the initiative. “We have the DSA, we have CPUSA, DC for democracy. We had unions and the DC Labor Council.”
DC will join seven states — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — and the Territory of Guam to eliminate a minimum wage for restaurant workers.
The law requires employers of the 68,500 employees in the hospitality and leisure industries to pay their employees the district-wide minimum wage. This includes not just waiters and bartenders, but all employees who currently receive tips, such as hotel and nail salon staff.
“We have a lot of evidence in the other seven states that have already done this that tipping stays the same,” O’Leary said. “Incomes are rising, the poverty rate among workers is falling. And the income gaps for women and people of color in the industry are also getting smaller.”
Organizers are also trying to avoid I-77’s fate by asking council members to sign a pledge not to cancel the initiative or change its language in any way that would fundamentally alter it.
Five council members have already signed, one of six, as incumbent Elissa Silverman lost her bid for a council seat at large. Company bosses also sponsored a powerful effort to defeat her, one of their toughest critics. According to O’Leary, only council members Vincent Gray and Trayon White publicly voice their disapproval.
Seven council members also pledged their support Washington City Papers, while two others and recently elected Kenyan McDuffie at least said they would not support a repeal effort.
“Again, I’m really glad we have some really strong allies on the Council. Brianne Nadeau, Janice Lewis-George, Zachary Parker and Matt Frumin and Robert White are all genuinely staunch supporters of it. We’re also very proud of Robert White because he was actually opposed when it came to I-77, but his opinion has changed, as have many others, including tipped workers,” he added.
Four years ago, the city council moved to repeal I-82’s predecessor after passing a vote with 55% popular support.
The repeal came after the city’s hospitality industry poured more than $400,000 into advertising and lobbying led by “astroturf” organizations led by Trump advisers.
To offset their lifting, the council mandated local restaurants to disclose all wages and tips paid to workers to deter continued wage theft. A report conducted last month by DC Jobs With Justice and DC’s Restaurant Opportunity Center revealed that 65% of restaurants and bars with liquor licenses had failed to report employee wages.