Oct 14, 2021 - News
D.C. organizers start petition for tipped minimum wage
Tipped minimum wage rally in D.C.
Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

Campaigners to raise tipped minimum wage began collecting signatures yesterday for a similar ballot initiative that voters approved in 2018 — only to be overruled by council members.

Details: Initiative 82 aims to gradually raise the minimum wage of tipped workers to full parity with minimum wage in D.C.

  • Under current law, D.C. minimum wage for tipped workers is $5.05 with the assumption workers will make up in tips the difference between that wage and the $15 minimum wage for non-tipped workers.
  • Initiative 82 aims to raise the minimum wage to full parity with non-tipped workers by 2027.

Flashback: A similar ballot initiative — Initiative 77 — was approved by voters in 2018 but was overturned by the D.C. Council.

  • Two council members who had voted to repeal Initiative 77 are no longer on the council and one — Brandon Todd — was replaced by a council member — Janeese Lewis George — who has expressed support for tipped wages.

Between the lines: Initiative 82 contains almost identical language to Initiative 77 with one addition: It says tips will continue to be the property of workers and will be in addition to the minimum wage.

  • Back in 2018, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington opposed Initiative 77, urging voters to vote no with the argument that the initiative would replace tips altogether.
  • Former restaurant worker and initiative organizer Ryan O’Leary tells Axios that the organizers have received no pushback from RAMW on Initiative 82. RAMW declined to comment to Axios.

Zoom out: The pandemic has exacerbated an existing restaurant staffing crisis in D.C., Washington City Paper has reported.

O’Leary tells Axios that raising the minimum wage for tipped workers while allowing workers to retain tips makes restaurants more competitive.

  • “Any restaurant at that point that still allows tipping, which I imagine will be nearly all of them, will be seen as a more ideal workplace for service workers,” O’Leary says.
  • Seven states have already raised the wage to the full minimum wage with tips included.

What’s next: To get the initiative on the ballot, organizers must collect around 26,000 signatures over the next 180 days—reflecting 5% of registered voters citywide with a distribution that reflects at least 5% of registered voters in at least five wards.

  • The D.C. Board of Elections tells Axios that the number of registered voters at the end of August was 517,682 although that number may fluctuate a bit.
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