D.C. residents headed to the polls on June 18 to vote in the city’s primary, where 55% approved Initiative 77, which would make the city’s minimum wage the same for tipped and non-tipped workers.
Like most states, D.C. has a separate minimum wage for tipped employees. The minimum wage is set to rise to $15 an hour by 2020, with the tipped minimum wage previously set to increase from $3.33 to $5 an hour by that same year. Initiative 77 would eliminate the tipped minimum wage completely so that tipped workers would also earn $15 an hour by 2025.
The issue has been hotly contested, and advocates on both sides have made themselves heard. “Save Our Tips” flyers have been posted on restaurant windows and street corners, and “One Fair Wage” has been spotted on signs around the city.
Many tipped workers are against the initiative because they currently earn most of their money through tips, and they argue that a decrease in tipping could severely affect their income. Elizabeth Grannis (COL ’18) worked at the Tombs from her second semester freshman year to her graduation in May, working jobs from server to doorman. She was against Initiative 77 passing.
“As a server, I could make a lot more money off of tips than I could with a flat hourly rate,” Grannis said. “Initiative 77 provides just [minimum] wage security, and completely takes away the ability to earn more than that.”
Employers are legally required to make up the difference between an employee’s earnings and the full minimum wage, which is currently $12.50, if their tips fall short.
Mizraim Belman (SFS ’20), who is a a summer intern at the D.C. chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), which was on the forefront of the support for Initiative 77, is glad the measure passed.
“It ensures that our workers, regardless of the shift they pick up, what time they’re able to come in, they’re getting fairly compensated for the work that they’re doing,” said Belman.
One argument made by ROC is that in the seven states that have legislation similar to Initiative 77, sexual harassment complaints in the service industry are half that of other states. According to the Harvard Business Review, as many as 90% of women and 70% of men in the restaurant industry say they have been sexually harassed to some degree. Without tips as leverage, Initiative 77 advocates believe workers will be less afraid to speak out against harassment from patrons and management.
“If you’re being harassed or you’re being discriminated against, it makes it more difficult for you to speak out because we know you have to put up with that attitude and give them good service because you need that tip,” said Belman
But, Grannis doesn’t think that tips are the source of sexual harassment problems.
“Money isn’t the issue here. The real danger in a server telling off a customer is the fear that the customer will complain to the manager, and the manager, in an effort to keep the customer happy, will fire the server. Initiative 77 changes nothing about this,” Grannis said.
80,443 votes were counted in the election for a 17% turnout rate. According to the D.C. Board of Elections, there were 476,756 registered voters in D.C. as of May 31.
Critics of the measure suggest that the low turnout is not representative of D.C.’s population, citing that the initiative passed with the support of roughly 9% of the city’s registered voters.
Those in favor of the measure say that low turnout does not lessen the result, as anyone registered could have voted on it.
“This initiative has been in the works for a while and had to meet all D.C. board of elections steps and procedures in order to be on any ballot,” said Belman. “Regardless, [all registered voters] were eligible to vote on the initiative.”
In order to become law, Initiative 77 will have to undergo a 30-day congressional review. Councilmembers could alter or reverse the decision, and a majority of them, as well as the mayor, have come out against it.
Initiative 77 joined primary races for city positions on the ballot. Mayor Muriel Bowser won 80% of the Democratic primary vote, and will be up for reelection in November. The incumbent Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Norton Holmes, and Attorney General, Karl Racine, easily carried their races as well. 96% of all ballots were cast in the Democratic primary, and nearly 75% of all voters in D.C. are registered Democrats.