The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the DC Council voted 8-5 to repeal Initiative 77, a ballot initiative passed earlier this year that would have eliminated the separate tipped minimum wage in the District. The law would have gradually increased tipped workers’ wages over seven years. Quelle horreur.
The city’s restaurant industry ran a massive, well-funded, deeply deceptive campaign, aided by experienced dirty trickster Rick Berman, to convince both workers and voters that the industry would perish if the law passed. Without the measure, the initiative would have taken effect on October 9, immediately raising wages to $4.50 an hour.
The initiative passed in June with 55 percent of the vote, but the results by ward are most striking. The only ward that voted against the initiative was Ward 3, which covers predominately white, astronomically rich areas like Cleveland Park, Friendship Heights, and Chevy Chase. Predominately black areas voted for the initiative by much higher margins—Ward 8 supported it at a rate of 67 to 32 percent. You can use this map from CityLab to see just how closely the vote tracks with poverty rates and lower percentages of white voters.
Supporters of the initiative argued that abolishing the tipped wage would make it harder for restaurants to engage in wage theft. One of the initiative’s biggest opponents, the Farmers Restaurant Group, which owns DC’s most-Yelp-reviewed restaurant Founding Farmers, agreed to pay a $1.49 million settlement in a wage theft case in August. According to DCist, employees had “said they were being paid below the tipped minimum wage, even when they were doing untipped work like buying their uniforms, attending pre-shift meetings, and performing ‘side work’ like cleaning up at night and bundling silverware.” It’s almost as if having a separate tipped minimum wage opens the door for exactly this kind of wage theft.
The councilman who proposed the repeal bill, Phil Mendelson, added some last-minute changes to head off a separate compromise bill proposed by Elisa Silverman, which would have excluded servers and bartenders while keeping the new law for workers outside the restaurant industry, like hotel bellhops. Mendelson’s concessions included setting up a tip line for wage theft and requiring businesses to use a third-party payroll company. Those provisions will cost money, which will have to be budgeted for before they take effect, according to the Post.
An August report from the advocacy group Public Citizen found organizations opposed to Initiative 77 “contributed $236,013 to D.C.’s current 14 elected officials during their two most recent campaigns,” almost all of whom opposed the initiative. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is expected to sign the repeal bill, “received the most from anti-Initiative 77 individuals and entities, more than $65,000.”