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D.C. bartenders, servers relieved over wage vote halt

Vast majority of tipped employees oppose ending ‘tip credit’ wage system

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wage, gay news, Washington Blade
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 [email protected].

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. I'm Just Sayin'

    February 5, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    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.

  2. Mark Lee

    February 5, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    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).

    • I'm Just Sayin'

      February 5, 2016 at 7:12 pm

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

      • Ben S.

        February 10, 2016 at 8:35 am

        “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.

      • Ben S.

        February 10, 2016 at 8:37 am

        “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.

  3. Greg Cundiff

    February 6, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    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.

  4. lnm3921

    February 6, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    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.

  5. Nathan

    February 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm

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

  6. lesbiantippinghabits

    February 17, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    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?

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Opinions

The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Opinions

Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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