Actress Jane Fonda joined supporters of D.C.’s Initiative 77 in visits to the offices of City Council members on June 13 to urge the Council not to overturn the initiative, which would raise the minimum wage of tipped workers to $15 an hour by 2025.
Fonda, a longtime political activist, said she decided to come to D.C. in support of tipped workers after learning that the Council was considering a bill to overturn the initiative. Voters approved the measure in the city’s June 19 primary election by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
“When I heard two days ago what the City Council was doing I determined I wanted to come here and try to talk to them,” Fonda told reporters outside the John A. Wilson D.C. city hall building.
“I was here last fall also talking to the City Council,” Fonda said. “I was sure that they would support the voice of the people. I really believed that. So I’m quite stunned,” she said upon learning that the Council was considering overturning the ballot measure.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson and six of his colleagues introduced a bill on July 10 calling for blocking Initiative 77 from taking effect on grounds that it would hurt rather than help tipped workers.
Mendelson and the other Council members introduced the repeal bill one day after more than 200 tipped workers and representatives of the restaurant and hospitality industry visited Council members’ offices urging them to kill the initiative.
The tipped workers, including a number of LGBT tipped workers, said most tipped workers already earn more than $15 per hour. They said forcing restaurants, bars and other businesses that employ tipped workers to pay that amount in wages would create a financial burden that could force them out of business or raise prices for customers that would result in lower tips.
The Council members who introduced the repeal bill also noted that voter turnout for the June 19 primary was an all-time low of 18.6 percent and could not be viewed as a true mandate of city residents on the initiative.
But Fonda and Dianna Ramirez, coordinator of the campaign to pass the initiative, said restaurant and bar owners were misleading many of the tipped workers by exaggerating the effect that “one fair wage” would have on these businesses. They pointed to seven states that have adopted a higher minimum wage for tipped workers, in which they said restaurants and other businesses that employ tipped workers are thriving.
Asked what she planned to say to the Council members she planned to visit, Fonda said, “That they are being undemocratic, that they are going against the voice of the people and it’s unacceptable.”
She added, “And everyone we’ve talked to in this city is very angry about what they’re doing, so we have to persuade them not to do it and to support the voice of the people.”
Frank Mills, a bartender at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Adams Morgan, was among about a dozen tipped workers opposing Initiative 77 that assembled outside the Wilson Building a short distance from where Fonda and Ramirez spoke to reporters, including several TV news camera crews.
Mills noted that the wording of the initiative appearing on the ballot did not inform voters that restaurants and other businesses that employ tipped workers are required by existing law to pay them the difference if they don’t earn the full city minimum wage in tips.
Mills said that although he has nothing against Jane Fonda he was concerned that she didn’t fully understand the details of the city’s restaurant and hospitality industry.
“To be quite honest we’re kind of bamboozled and caught off guard by this, that they would bring such a public figure to aid them and the fact that she doesn’t have a clue of what’s going on in D.C.,” Mills said.
Mendelson said the Council would hold a public hearing on the bill calling for repealing the initiative after it returns from its summer recess in September.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the introduction of the bill to repeal Initiative 77 has prompted hundreds of angry D.C. residents to call or email members of the Council to express strong opposition to any attempt to overturn the outcome of an election.