September 18, 2018 at 7:58 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT workers testify on bill to retain tipped wage system
Initiative 77, divorce, Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade

Phil Mendelson co-introduced the bill calling for repeal of Initiative 77. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

More than a dozen LGBT tipped workers and representatives of the city’s gay bars were among at least 252 people who signed up as witnesses to testify at a D.C. City Council hearing on Monday on a bill calling for repealing an initiative passed by voters in June to end the so-called tipped wage system.

Sources familiar with the witness list believe as many as 65 percent of the witnesses would be tipped workers at D.C. restaurants, bars, and nightclubs who favor repeal of Initiative 77, which voters approved by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin in the city’s June 19 primary election.

If it were to remain in effect, Initiative 77 would require restaurants, bars and other employers of tipped workers to pay those workers the city’s full minimum wage, which is currently $13.25 per hour and which will increase to $15 per hour in 2020. The minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $3.89 per hour.

Under the city’s tipped wage law, employers in the city’s highly competitive restaurant bar and nightclub industries are allowed to pay tipped workers a lower minimum wage on grounds that they make more than the city’s full minimum wage in tips. The law requires employers to pay the difference if workers’ tips fall short of the full minimum wage.

Restaurant owners have said Initiative 77 would increase their labor costs to a degree that could force them out of business or force them to raise prices for food and beverages, which they say would result in lower tips and a lower overall income for tipped workers.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who introduced the repeal bill in July, said he and his Council colleagues have been besieged by tipped workers urging the Council to exercise its authority to repeal the initiative on grounds that it will have a devastatingly harmful impact on their livelihoods as servers and bartenders in the city’s thriving hospitality and nightlife industry.

Supporters of Initiative 77, including LGBT labor activists, have said the “alarmist” predictions by restaurant industry leaders have been proven to be wrong in a number of cities and states, including California, that have adopted legislation requiring tipped workers to receive the full minimum wage in their states or cities.

Among those scheduled to testify at Monday’s hearing, which was to begin at 11 a.m. and last late into the night, were John Guggenmos, co-owner of the D.C. gay bars Trade and Number Nine; and Mark Lee, managing consultant for NO2DC77, one of the leading groups opposing the initiative. Guggenmos has also been an outspoken opponent of Initiative 77.

Among the LGBT witnesses expected to testify against repealing the initiative is gay labor activist Gregory Cendana.

Six other Council members have joined Mendelson in co-introducing the bill calling for repealing Initiative 77. Mendelson assigned the bill to the Council’s Committee of the Whole, which he chairs and which consists of all 13 Council members. He has yet to schedule a vote on the bill in the full Council.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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