- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2018

D.C. voters have approved a measure to end the tipped-worker wage, but the initiative’s fate rests with the D.C. Council, which can still kill the proposal.

Ten of the council’s 13 members — as well as the mayor, business owners and tipped workers themselves — opposed Initiative 77, which 55 percent of voters approved in Tuesday’s primary elections.

“Something was passed. It is the law. We can change the law,” said councilmember Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, on Wednesday.

The D.C. Board of Elections said it hopes to certify on Monday the voting results for Initiative 77, which then would be submitted to Congress for approval before becoming law. After it goes into effect, the council can introduce legislation to reverse it.

“You’re always going to have people on both sides of every issue, and that’s why you elect government officials to make decisions,” Mr. Evans said.

Only 17 percent of registered D.C. voters participated in Tuesday’s primary, and Mr. Evans said the low turnout makes him doubt that the votes for the initiative truly represent the wishes of most residents.

“Virtually everyone I know did not support it,” he said. “Most of the council, the mayor, every restaurant owner and the restaurant employees did not support it.”

Mr. Evans sat on the council in 2001, the last time city lawmakers overturned a voter initiative, and he said he would support similar action this time around.

In October 2001, the council voted 9-4 on a bill that overturned a 1999 ballot measure imposing term limits on the lawmakers. Mr. Evans said some people “were not happy” with the council’s vote but that is part of the city’s democratic process.

Initiative 77, also known as the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, would require all business owners to pay the city’s standard minimum wage — currently $12.50 per hour — to all hourly employees, including those who have relied on tips such as servers, table bussers, bartenders and nail salon workers.

Right now, city businesses are required to pay tipped workers at least $3.33 an hour, and if the workers’ tips fail to raise their pay to $12.50 an hour, the employers must make up the difference.

The initiative would raise the tipped minimum wage by $1.50 an hour each year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025. That’s when the city’s tipped minimum wage would end and all hourly workers would earn the same base pay.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, supported the initiative and argued that discussions about overturning it aren’t about the merits of the legislation.

“If the shoe were on the other foot, they’d be touting their victory,” Ms. Cheh said the legislation’s opponents, adding that it is a “realistic possibility” the council will try to repeal it.

However, she said, the real issue is voter autonomy. “Does the government have to interfere with the decision of the people after they’ve made it?” she asked.

Sheena Wills, a bartender at DC9 nightclub who opposed the initiative, said the close vote on the legislation — 44,353 for, 36,090 against — showed that the opposition did better than expected.

“For me, it means workers should get a seat at the table,” said Ms. Wills, 35. “We should be involved in the next steps to improve our industry.”

A spokesman for council Chairman Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat who won his reelection bid Tuesday, said he “cannot say definitively whether or not the initiative will be overturned” but such action could be taken in the fall if there is enough support from the council.

Before Tuesday’s primary, councilmembers David Grosso and Elissa Silverman — both at-large independents — and councilmember Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat, said the were undecided about Initiative 77.

On Wednesday, Democratic councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Brandon Todd (Ward 4) and Robert White (at-large) said they were undecided about overturning the legislation.

A spokesman for Mr. Todd told The Washington Times he believes “it is premature to speculate about what direction Council will take” but that he “looks forward to continuing to hear from tipped employees and industry leaders.”

Activists on both sides of the issue are aiming to sway legislators.

“In the coming months, we will work with the Mayor and Councilmembers to fully implement Initiative 77,” One Fair Wage D.C. Coalition said Wednesday. “We are prepared to provide our elected officials with the information and support they need to ensure gradual wage increases for all tipped workers in D.C., a majority of whom are women, people of color and immigrants.”

But the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington called One Fair Wage an “out of town interest group.” Association President Kathy E. Hollinger said Wednesday that “we cannot accept as final a vote in a primary election, in the middle of the summer, on a ballot measure the language of which was, at best, misleading.”

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