February 5, 2016 at 12:02 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
D.C. bartenders, servers relieved over wage vote halt
wage, gay news, Washington Blade

The hospitality professionals who serve your meals and libations at local bars and restaurants hope you’ll protect their livelihoods when and if you end up voting on their wages.

Last Friday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Maurice A. Ross halted a proposed minimum wage ballot initiative that many thought would be voted on during the November presidential election in the District.

Local bar, restaurant and nightclub employees were among the most relieved that there now appears little chance that will happen.

Notable is that many residents are clueless as to why the vast majority of tipped workers engaged in the city’s largest hometown business sector are breathing easier about their incomes.

An exception to widespread ignorance regarding what the ballot measure includes is gay and lesbian industry veterans of, or current employees at, local hospitality establishments. Alongside others who have worked in the business, we understand what is at stake.

Fears that voters will interfere with the attractive tip incomes and existing pay system of their workplaces have, for the moment, subsided. As executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association (DCNHA), I continually hear the worry expressed by bartenders, restaurant servers and other tipped workers: “Please don’t let them ‘fix’ my job, it isn’t broken.”

Lurking beneath the “bright shiny object” of a misguided effort to further hike the local minimum wage to a counterproductively too-high job-killing and hours-reducing $15 is an included attempt by labor unions and union-funded groups to eliminate the “tip credit” wage system. This near-universal national standard is the longstanding economic model for tight-margin, pricing-sensitive, revenue-volatile restaurants and bars. Tipped workers love it.

Under the existing set-up, tipped employees are fully guaranteed the minimum wage in rare instances that the $2.77 local base wage plus gratuities fails to exceed the hourly minimum during a pay period. Bartenders and servers typically earn significantly more than minimum wage, set to increase to $11.50 in July, or the proposed $15.

It’s why D.C. elected officials, and legislators in neighboring Maryland counties, voted to preserve and protect the tip credit system when each jurisdiction elevated local minimum wage levels to among the highest in the country two years ago.

The now-halted ballot initiative would require that tipped employees be paid the full hourly wage in addition to tips, upending the current system and eventually lowering wages due to inevitably declining tips and eventual abandonment of tipping protocols.

The question to ponder is this: Why do labor unions hope to increase wages for the highest-paid hospitality employees by increasing base pay before tips by $12.23 an hour – an astounding 420 percent increase? It’s counterintuitive, unless there’s a secretive agenda.

And, of course, there is.

Labor groups, frustrated by a long history of abject failure making inroads toward unionizing independent small business dining and drinking venues, are playing a “long game” of workplace manipulation. Unfortunately for them, workers are wise to their scheming.

By reducing a profession rich in legacy and reward to minimum wage pay rates by causing patrons to first tip less and eventually not tip at all, labor bosses hope to create dependency on unions for income levels.

The irony is that this effort to transform tipped staff into union-wage automatons will encourage deployment of technologies to automate service functions. Businesses will have no other option to offset skyrocketing labor costs alongside required steep increases in meal and drink prices prompting reduced customer purchasing and patronage frequency.

Although Judge Ross had not released a written order at this writing, with the scope of his decision unknown, he ruled from the bench on one of four legal objections. Ross determined the D.C. Board of Elections was not legally constituted when the initiative was approved, due to every single member serving beyond long-expired terms.

Consequently, this ballot measure could survive other legal objections when considered for future elections.

The hospitality professionals who both enjoy working in an occupation of opportunity and serving your meals and libations at local bars and restaurants hope you’ll protect their livelihoods as if your own when and if you end up voting on their wages.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

9 Comments
  • Come on, Washington Blade. How much longer is Mark Lee going to be allowed to hide behind that generic bio? Considering the topic of this op-ed, he clearly should have been identified as the Executive Director of the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association. This is the second time he has been allowed to promote the interests of bar owners on these pages without disclosing his conflict of interest.

  • TO: “I’m Just Sayin'” (Reader Comment: 2/5/16, ~3:30pm):
    FYI – You appear to have overlooked that, in the context of this topic and referencing my first-hand knowledge of the subject matter, I clearly identify my position as the executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association (DCNHA) – see the 5th graf to locate. While you’re at it, you might also choose to actually read the piece before posting your “complaint” …Just Sayin’!!! My standard Blade bio appears in addition and as it has throughout my 5-year tenure as a Washington Blade Contributing Columnist (see publication masthead).

    • Guilty. I stopped reading once I realized it was just another “business good – government inept” diatribes. Who are you going to defend next Walmart?

      • “I’m Just Sayin”, have you ever worked in the service industry? As a former bartender I would MUCH rather my pay come from my hard work behind the bar rather than be treated like an Burger King register jockey… if you have ever had a drink at a busy bar, you probably would prefer the same.

      • “I’m Just Sayin”, have you ever worked in the service industry? As a former bartender I would MUCH rather my pay come from my hard work behind the bar rather than be treated like a Burger King register jockey… if you have ever ordered a drink at a busy bar, you probably would prefer the same.

  • It’s union bashing pure and simple. The bosses can organize to screw over the workers, but when labor attempts to do the same thing everyone goes nuts.

  • Isn’t this really a relief to business owners who don’t want to pay higher living wages to their workers, rather they want the consumer to subsidize the pay of their workers through tips so they don’t have to do it? They would either have to eat into their profits to cover it or more likely jack up prices to the consumer which they likely would do anyway on the pretext that rents and taxes in the district force them to do it.

    Tips are expected but no one can force a consumer to give a tip for service let alone a big one. The price of parking in the district, paying a cover charge and then outrageously priced drinks already makes going out an expensive proposition every weekend. The attitude that if you aren’t willing or able to spend you should then stay home is arrogant and only hurts your business rather than promote it. People can always go elsewhere.

  • Sham on the Blade for publishing industry talking points without context.

  • Does the DC Nightlife Hospitality Association have any position re tipping in general? Such as, it is good and worthy to tip generously for good service?

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2019. All rights reserved.