June 11, 2018 at 12:54 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
D.C. tip-wage initiative exposes unexpected divisions
tipped workers, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) marched in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When D.C. Council member Vincent Gray announced his opposition to Initiative 77 on Monday, he issued a statement that read, “If Initiative 77 passes, I am concerned it would hurt our tipped workers and discourage restaurants from opening in areas like Ward 7 on the East End of the District.”

His written release may symbolize an evolving awareness now guiding both the haves and the have-nots in a detectable shift toward increasing public disapproval of the voter question.

Gray added that the ballot measure “could also cause cuts in shifts and hours, throwing workers into further economic uncertainty and potentially eliminating jobs.”

Initiative 77 would require bars and restaurants, nearly all of whom in the city are locally owned independent small businesses unlike anywhere else in the country, to directly pay the full minimum wage to tipped staff. These employees are currently paid, as in 43 states, a base-wage in addition to tips earned and are guaranteed to earn the full minimum wage in any infrequent instance that the tip-wage and tips do not exceed it, usually by a substantial amount.

Tip-earning bartenders and servers have proven too smart to be tricked by the deceptions, falsehoods, and outlandish claims being served by a national big-money special-interest and union-funded group that has trolled into town to push for passage.

Nightlife and hospitality employees know that upending the economic model of an entire business sector, the second-largest hometown enterprise segment in D.C., will both reduce their actual wages and eliminate current income potential by converting their jobs into ones largely limited to hourly-wage earnings. Tipped workers understand it’s really a wage cut in disguise, designed to de-professionalize the occupation.

Gray stated that this proposed change “could easily scare off restaurants from opening because operating costs would be raised, rendering it difficult if not impossible for restaurants to make ends meet.” The former mayor now representing the mainly working-class east-side area of the District added that the initiative is “a prescription for failure.”

The respected official and longtime LGBT political ally joined a majority of his colleagues, now numbering eight of the 13 Council members, in urging District voters to reject the ballot measure. Only a solitary Council member, Mary Cheh, has endorsed it. Mayor Bowser is also strongly opposed to the measure, telling voters that tipped workers clearly don’t support it.

Two events in the evening following Gray’s announcement, on opposite ends of an economically divided city, are perhaps emblematic about where the battle over Initiative 77 may be heading in the closing days. All registered voters, including the large number of independents, can vote on the initiative in the primary election on June 19.

The “Ward 3 Democrats” committee, located in sole Council initiative backer Cheh’s tony and upper-income west-side district, narrowly endorsed the ballot initiative by a vote of 21-15 after apparently suspending the rules on the required approval threshold. Local politicos note the political party committee now has more far-left members, causing observers surprise that the vote was so close.

Simultaneously across town in Southeast D.C., Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commission 8-E unanimously voted to oppose Initiative 77. The community commissioners represent a portion of the working-class and lower-income district with D.C.’s highest unemployment and limited job opportunities or pathways to middle class incomes.

I may not be an objective observer, assisting one of the tipped-worker and venue groups working to defeat the initiative, but I detect a growing divide between slogan-loving hashtag-deploying anti-business leftist zealots and local residents taking a closer look at the initiative and talking with affected workers.

It appears a diverse cross-section of locals with either direct experience or observational awareness are joining with those who know well that wreaking economic havoc on one of the largest employment sources of opportunity for residents of all backgrounds, experiences and skill levels is a really bad idea.

If that’s true, tipped workers might actually win.


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

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