Widespread lack of awareness and voter confusion about a ballot measure that would outlaw the tip-wage system in the District began to come into sharper focus last week.
Dominating public discussion and media coverage about Initiative 77, which will appear on the city’s June 19 primary election ballot, in recent days has been the increasingly clear indication that the measure is strongly opposed by an overwhelming majority of tipped employees working at the more than 1,700 bars, restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment venues in D.C.
Tipped employees welcomed this newfound momentum and what they view as broad reconsideration among voters. They have begun intensifying their efforts to explain to neighbors, friends and local residents the complex nuances and complicated effects of this largely misunderstood proposal.
Servers and bartenders began wearing “Vote No on 77” buttons at local establishments and talking to patrons about the measure, signs starting appearing in bar and restaurant windows and inside venues, and diners were presented with anti-initiative information cards by servers when receiving their bills.
Hundreds of nightlife and hospitality workers earning tips held a forum last Wednesday morning that turned into more of a rally when they were joined by six D.C. Council members expressing opposition to Initiative 77 in passionate campaign-style speeches.
I attended the event alongside a number of LGBT tipped employees in my role assisting NO2DC77, launched in recent days by gay, lesbian, and transgender bar employees and local venues that quickly expanded to include the participation of all types of nightlife establishments across the city. It is one of four grassroots worker groups that have sprung up as part of a broad-based tipped worker effort to defeat Initiative 77.
A majority of all Council members are urging D.C. voters to reject the ballot measure, while only one has come out in support of it. Council members speaking to the notably large assembly of local tipped workers last week included Chairman Phil Mendelson and colleagues Kenyan McDuffie, Jack Evans, David Grosso, Anita Bonds and Brandon Todd. Council member Brianne Nadeau has also announced she opposes the initiative.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser offered a full-throated commentary opposing Initiative 77 when asked her position on the weekly NPR-affiliate program “The Politics Hour” on WAMU Radio the previous week.
“I’m against Initiative 77. If people vote for it they will be voting for decreasing the pay of the thousands of servers who are making a good living in D.C. right now,” Bowser said in reference to the approximately 35,000 tipped workers in the city employed by the second largest hometown business sector. “But you don’t have to listen to me, listen to them…they’ll tell you. They are not interested in Initiative 77.”
Protecting their good incomes and preserving their ability to remain D.C. or area residents due the high cost of living was a reoccurring message local voters began to hear from affected workers in recent days. A significantly higher percentage of hospitality employees working at D.C. establishments are District residents than those employed at all jobs located within the city.
This theme, in fact, opened a presentation to customers by three women bartenders at DC9 last weekend, the restaurant-bar and music venue popular in the LGBT community and host of gay music and dance party events. These tipped employees released a video of their presentation, titled “Vote NO on Initiative 77: DC Bartenders Explain Why,” and posted it on YouTube. It is a straightforward summary of how Initiative 77 would affect their jobs, livelihoods and incomes, and local establishments – and is well worth watching.
“This is really near and dear to our hearts,” emphasize the trio. “This is how we make money and how we can afford to live in a really expensive city, and love it. We do it by bartending, or serving. … This could put us in a situation where we couldn’t afford to live here.”
That’s what’s at stake.