As an advocate who has fought for nearly two decades for better jobs and higher wages for DC residents, I support Initiative 77. It will raise wages, preserve tipping and provide workers with a more reliable income.
Tipped workers deserve to earn the full minimum wage plus tips -- as already happens in seven states -- rather than depending almost entirely on tips to support themselves. A higher minimum wage will help all tipped workers earn more, and will be especially helpful to the many restaurant servers, parking lot attendants and hair stylists who don’t earn much and face unpredictable incomes from week to week.
While some tipped workers earn a middle-class income, overall tipped workers are among the lowest paid in DC. The average wage for DC restaurant servers -- $3.33 in wages plus tips -- is $17 an hour, while bartenders average $18 per hour, bellhops average $16 per hour and parking lot attendants average just $13 an hour. Raising the base minimum wage to $15 an hour will create more middle-class jobs for tipped workers, most of whom are people of color.
When tips represent the vast majority of a worker’s income, it also leaves thousands of hard-working people with uncertain income. A worker’s income should not be affected by bad weather, road construction, or a slow shift, when their rent and other bills are due each month no matter what. The law requires employers to fill the gap when tips plus $3.33 falls below the full minimum wage, but this rule is complex and non-compliance is common.
I understand that some restaurant owners and even tipped workers are concerned about what this initiative could mean for them. I support Initiative 77’s long phase in, through 2026, to give the industry time to adjust. And I’m open to a longer phase in as long as the goal stays the same. As we have seen in the past, the restaurant industry is strong and adapts to change, such as the ban on smoking that many restaurant owners feared would hurt their them. And we’ve sees that when the regular minimum wage is increased with an appropriate phase in, it puts more money in the pockets of working families without sacrificing jobs.
With a fair transition period, DC’s vibrant restaurant industry can make this important adjustment without workers losing tips or restaurants raising prices or laying off staff. I support Initiative 77 because it will raise the floor for everyone, both low-wage and high-wage tipped workers, without eliminating tips. You don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, just look at where the policy is already in place. California and six other states use the full minimum wage as the base wage for tipped workers, and their restaurant sectors are strong and growing. In San Francisco, servers earn a $13 base wage, customers tip at high rates, and prices at comparable restaurants are about the same as in DC. The meatloaf at Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco, for example, is just 50 cents more than in their DC restaurant. today.
- Ed Lazere