Initiative 77: Should the minimum wage for tipped workers in D.C. get a raise?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the June 19th primary gets closer, the debate over Initiative 77 is heating up in the District.

D.C. voters, regardless of what party they're registered with, will get the opportunity to decide whether or not the minimum wage should be raised for tipped workers.

Initiative 77 would incrementally increase the tipped minimum wage by $1.50 per year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025.

The current minimum wage for tipped workers is $3.33. Minimum wage employees in D.C. make $12.50 an hour, which will raise to $15 by 2020.

Diana Ramirez, Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of D.C., pushing the One Fair Wage campaign, says the majority of tipped workers in the District are women and people of color.

"For us it’s not just an economic justice issue, it’s a racial justice issue and a general justice issue as well," she says.

She also points to data, listed on the OFW website, which states the restaurant and hospitality industry is the single-largest source of sexual-harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with a rate twice that of the general workforce.

"Women have to put up with more unwanted behavior to make that tip," she says.

However, a number of popular D.C. restaurants and bars are listed under the "Vote No 77" website.

In a letter on its home page, it talks about how the current law requires them to guarantee that every tipped worker makes minimum wage. If a server does not get tipped for two weeks, the restaurant has to pay.

Ashley Saunders, a general manager at Union Pub in Northeast, says Initiative 77 would likely lead to cutting staff.

"I think customer service would take a hit, instead of servers we would have a bar tender, you’d have to come up to the bar," she says. "I think a lot of places would have to tack on service charges, increased menu prices, and then when you take all of that into consideration are people really going to tip the same amount?"

Depending on the turnout of the vote, it will ultimately be up to D.C. City Council to work out the logistics of the initiative.

Councilmember At-Large, Robert White Jr., says after talking with tipped workers, he decided he would vote against Initiative 77.

Originally, he thought he would support it, but talking with an overwhelming number of tipped workers against it made him change his mind.

"Regardless of where you start on this issue, please do some research," he says.