Initiative 77: A decision on what to pay tipped workers served to D.C. voters

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WASHINGTON D.C. -- Think about bus boys and bar backs-- essential restaurant and bar workers on a busy night-- and how much they could use a bump in pay for the work they put in.

Now think about some of those positions being eliminated if the cost of business rises too much with the passage of Initiative 77 which goes before D.C. voters on Tuesday.

It's the kind of paradox that some service industry workers want voters to think about as they held signs at the intersection of 16th and U Streets and fought against Initiative 77 Monday night.

Here's how Initiative 77 is being presented to district voters through the Board of Elections website:

Initiative Measure Number 77 - District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017:

If enacted, this initiative will gradually increase the minimum wage in the District of Columbia to $15 hourly by 2020; gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped employees so that they receive the same minimum wage directly from their employer as other employees by 2026; Beginning in 2021, require minimum wage to increase yearly in proportion to increases in the consumer price index. The minimum wage increases under the initiative will not apply to DC government employees or employees of DC government contractors.

Those backing the measure say it will fairly compensate everyone who works within the service industry not just reward those who work for tips.

"Due to the lobbying power of the National Restaurant Association and Fortune 500 restaurant corporations, the restaurant industry is one of the only industries that gets away, in 43 states, with not paying the great majority of people who work in restaurants — servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders — at least the minimum wage," said the group on its One Fair Wage website.

But those demonstrating against the proposal until the very end are mostly workers in those local establishments who would rather come up with a new plan than push through something that may work in other communities but has not been tested in Washington D.C.

"The people who are for this are not talking to us," said Morgan Murphy, whose husband works at a bar and grill in Northwest. "They're not organizing us and in effect they are hurting us. They totally shut us out of these discussions. They got this on the ballot and here we are fighting it."

Others believe besides putting jobs at risk the measure could also lead to higher prices at D.C. establishments, which could drive away business.

"A lot of people who spend their happy hour time in D.C. and work in D.C. live in Maryland and Virginia," Sheena Wills, a server who works in the Shaw neighborhood. "What is their incentive to stay if there is no such thing as a happy hour anymore? If prices go up they are going to go somewhere closer to home."

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