LGBT tipped workers at the city’s restaurants, bars, and nightclubs joined their straight colleagues on Tuesday in celebrating a vote by the D.C. City Council to repeal an initiative passed by voters in June to end the so-called tipped wage system.
In its first of two required readings, the Council voted 8 to 5 to approve a bill calling for repealing Initiative 77, which voters passed by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent despite vocal opposition by what appeared to be a large majority of tipped workers.
Council observers expect the Council to give final approval to the repeal bill later this month. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she would sign a repeal bill.
Had it become law, 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 hospitality industry are allowed to pay tipped workers a lower minimum wage on grounds that the workers 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.
Bar and restaurant owners said ending the tipped wage system would increase their labor costs to a degree that could force them out of business or force them to raise food and beverage prices, which they said would result in lower overall income for tipped workers.
Supporters of the initiative disputed those claims, saying ending the tipped wage system in several other states has not brought about significant problems for restaurants and bars. But opponents of the initiative, including large numbers of tipped workers, told Council members D.C.’s unique and thriving restaurant, bar and nightclub venues would be especially susceptible to serious and harmful repercussions if Initiative 77 were to become law.
Employees and owners of several of the city’s gay bars were part of a coalition of hospitality industry businesses and employees that urged the Council to repeal Initiative 77.
In a development that surprised some observers, once the Council voted 8 to 5 on Tuesday both in the Council’s Committee of the Whole and in the full Council to approve the repeal bill it voted unanimously in a third vote for an emergency version of the bill. The emergency measure takes effect immediately, which prevents Initiative 77 from taking effect this month while the Council moves ahead with its normal legislative process that takes about two months for passing the regular repeal bill. The process involves sending it to the mayor for her signature and completing a required 30 legislative day review by Congress.
“LGBT tipped employees along with tipped employees across the city are celebrating tonight that Initiative 77 has been repealed by the City Council, which will protect their jobs and their livelihoods and their income,” said gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, who served as managing consultant for NO2DC77, one of the leading groups opposing the initiative.
“This sets a national standard of pushback against the outside organizations that came into Washington to try to impose this upon the workers,” Lee said.
Many supporters of Initiative 77, led by the New York-based group Restaurant Opportunities Center United, denounced the Council for what they called a blatant move to overturn the will of voters who approved the initiative in the city’s June 19 primary election. Some said they would consider pushing for yet another voter initiative to bring the measure back for another vote at the polls.