Tipping is on the Ballot in Washington, DC
by David Klemt
Out of concern that people who work for tips aren’t making minimum wage in Washington, DC, Initiative 82 is on the ballot.
This is interesting for several reasons. One of which is the fact this isn’t the first time this issue has been voted on in DC.
Back in 2018, Initiative 77 was presented to Washington, DC, voters. The initiative took the $3.33 per hour minimum wage for tipped workers up to $15 per hour, the full minimum wage.
In June 2018, the measure was approved by voters. However, the Washington, DC, Council held a vote and repealed Initiative 77 after if had been passed.
Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman) of the Washington, DC, Council, introduced the bill that ultimately repealed Initiative 77 in October 2018.
“The Council amends laws all the time. And if a law is a bad law it should be amended or repealed,” said Mendelson at the time. “It doesn’t matter if the law was adopted by Congress, the voters, or ourselves.”
Further, Mendelson claimed that tipped workers themselves—bartenders, servers, valets, manicurists, and more—didn’t hold a favorable view of the passing of the initiative.
“77 may be well-intentioned, but the very people the Initiative is intended to help are overwhelmingly opposed. If we want to help workers – protect them from harassment and exploitation – there are better ways than Initiative 77,” Mendelson said.
One council member, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), opposed repealing Initiative 77 and addressed claims that it was harmful to tipped workers.
“Although I take these claims seriously, in my view they are speculative and not borne out by the experience of the other jurisdictions that have one wage,” said Cheh.
Whenever increasing tipped worker wages to full minimum wage comes up, we tend to encounter the same arguments for and against.
Currently, the tipped hourly wage in DC is $5.35 per hour. In comparison, full minimum wage in DC is $16.10 per hour.
Now, as the law reads, if a tipped worker’s wages don’t equate to full minimum wage, their employer is expected to bridge the gap.
The key argument for the passing of Initiative 82 is simple: tipped workers should make at least minimum wage. These workers deserve the stability of knowing how much they’ll make each shift and earning a living wage (consistently, hopefully).
Those who support Initiative 82 also say that since the measure doesn’t outlaw tipping, tipped workers would earn more than minimum wage.
Opponents, however, argue that the initiative will harm tipped workers. Some say that operators will cut shifts and increase prices in response to Initiative 82 passing. This will, of course, lead to servers, bartenders, and other tipped workers making much less than they did in the past.
Traffic may also decrease because it’s assumed that operators will increase costs significantly.
There’s also the argument that’s often (if not always) made when this topic comes up: Tipped workers themselves don’t support these initiatives.
“I have not met a single server who wants this,” Washington, DC, bar owner David Perruzza told the Washington Blade. Perruzza added, “The people who support this don’t know anything about the service industry.”
A Few Questions…
I’ve made no secret of my cynicism when it comes to politicians and their relationships with our industry.
My main argument was made for me: the Restaurant Revitalization Fund saga. We watched for months as Congress failed to replenish the RRF, leaving more than 177,000 operators and their staffs to fend for themselves. This, after months of dangling replenishment in front of all of us. Ultimately, they abandoned us.
Tellingly, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) referred to RRF replenishment as a “bailout.” And apparently he doesn’t think much of the challenges operators have faced since the start of the pandemic, asking, “Where’s the emergency?” The closures of tens of thousands of restaurants and bars, often the cornerstones of communities across the country, doesn’t rank as an emergency, apparently.
So, Initiative 77, Initiative 82, and similar measures beg a few questions:
- Do politicians actually ask their tipped-wage constituents their thoughts on this topic before introducing these ballot measures?
- When these initiatives are being considered, do people just ask a few operator friends their opinions?
- Do local, state, and federal politicians really have a grasp of our industry?
One thing is certain: Industry eyes across the country are on Initiative 82. If it passes, we can likely expect similar measures to be introduced in cities and states. Should it fail, it may be a while before another jurisdiction sees this type of initiative again.