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.