- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed Thursday her commitment to raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, backed by a phalanx of workers from the Service Employees International Union.

Stressing that the wage hike is needed to help workers out of poverty, Ms. Bowser said the city’s current $10.50 an hour minimum that will rise to $11.50 in July is “a big step but doesn’t get us to the finish line.”

The Democratic mayor is set to submit a minimum wage bill to the D.C. Council this week. But Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said Thursday that details in the legislation are still being worked on, including how it will deal with tipped workers.

Currently, city workers who rely on tips, such as waiters and waitresses, earn a base wage of $2.77 an hour.

A national nonprofit aimed at improving pay for restaurant workers is calling for Ms. Bowser to include tipped workers in her minimum wage increase legislation.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United laid out its case for why tipped workers should get an increase along with the rest of the District’s working residents in a “proclamation” it issued this week.

“The sub-minimum wage for the over 100,000 tipped workers in Washington, D.C., has been frozen at $2.77 per hour, constituting a poverty-level wage based on the District’s rapidly increasing cost of living,” the group said.

The group also said that the majority of tipped workers are women and people of color who are being squeezed out of living in the District.

But the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association, a nonprofit organization representing bar, restaurant and nightclub owners, said this week that Ms. Bowser should leave the minimum wage for tipped workers alone.

“The servers, bartenders and other tipped employees working at D.C. bars, restaurants and nightclubs are extremely worried about what the mayor will propose,” the association’s executive director, Mark Lee, said in a statement. “Hospitality professionals fear what will happen to their well paying livelihoods if the tipped wage system is eliminated or radically changed.”

Mr. Lee said that if the tipped wage system is done away with, their incomes “will plummet.” He also said locally-owned, independent business owners in the District say their tipped workers usually end up making well above the current minimum wage for nontipped workers so the increase isn’t needed.

“The hospitality professionals earning tips are saying ‘don’t fix my job, it isn’t broken,’” Mr. Lee said. “They know how well it works and want the same system as is in place for the vast majority of cities and states across the country and everywhere in our region.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson hasn’t signaled whether he would support Ms. Bowser’s legislation.

“We have not seen the mayor’s proposal so it’s difficult to opine whether the proposal is the right approach or not,” the at-large Democrat said earlier this week.

Last week, New York and California increased their hourly minimums to $15 by 2020 and 2022, respectively. Meanwhile, officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, are preparing similar legislation in concert with the District.

Seattle and San Francisco in 2014 became the first U.S. cities to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

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