As a D.C. resident, gay man, and small business owner, I will be voting yes on Initiative 77 to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers. If D.C. voters join me in voting yes, employers will have to pay tipped workers – such as waiters and baristas – the same minimum wage as other employees by 2026.
I’m voting yes on Initiative 77 because I believe tipped workers should not have to rely on the kindness of their customers and bosses to make a livable wage – and I know firsthand the unwanted sexual harassment that pervades the tipped worker industry. I waited tables in high school and college, and as a recent graduate during a time I struggled to pay back my student loans. I still remember the pressure I felt to do what was needed to earn the tips from my customers. That included putting up with unwelcome advances and comments to avoid losing a tip from a table with a large bill.
I recently joined the board of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) Action, an advocacy organization initially founded to provide support to restaurant workers who were displaced after 9/11, and encourage voters to check out why ROC and local tipped workers are advocating for Initiative 77. A recent study by ROC found that 90 percent of restaurant workers in D.C. report experiencing unwanted sexual harassment at work. One-third of people start their careers in restaurants – as I did – and then take what is considered “acceptable” with them throughout their professional life. I see a direct connection between working for tips, putting up with unwanted sexual harassment, and the #MeToo movement.
The District’s tipped workers are disproportionately people of color — and female tipped workers are twice as likely to live in poverty as male tipped workers in D.C. That’s why, for me, this issue is as much about racial and gender equity as it is about economic justice – and why I’m voting yes on Initiative 77.
As a small business owner, I know how many barriers exist to starting your own company. I also know that business thrives when there is a level, fair playing field. While some exceptional restaurants like my former neighbor the Florida Avenue Grill have already enacted one fair wage, we should enact this policy across the District. To the opponents of Initiative 77 who claim that this change would scare away customers or decrease quality of service, I say have more faith in the District’s restaurants’ customers and staff. Increasing the tipped wage to the full minimum wage does not eliminate tipping, but it does ensure that at the end of the day all waiters and baristas will get a bigger paycheck.
Also, we’re the District of Columbia – our nation’s capital, where elected officials, tourists, and community leaders from across the country dine out every day of the year. Passing Initiative 77 will send a clear message that we stand with tipped workers – and join other states like California, Minnesota, and Nevada, and cities like Flagstaff, San Francisco, and Seattle – in supporting one fair wage.
I’m voting yes on Initiative 77 and hope you will join me in passing one fair wage on June 19!
Chris Cormier Maggiano is a D.C. resident and serves as president of Cormier & Co.