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Supporters of Initiative 77 project "Respect the Vote" onto the Wilson Building in Washington, D.C. ahead of Tuesday's vote. (Photo: Ally Schweitzer/WAMU)

'Sad Day for Democracy': Bowing to Restaurant Industry, DC Democrats Vote to Overturn Tipped Wage Increase Approved by Voters

"The D.C. Council just told every voter in the district that their voices don't matter."

Jake Johnson

Just months after voters in Washington, D.C. decisively approved Initiative 77—which would gradually raise the wages of tipped workers to match the city's regular minimum wage by 2026—the Democrat-dominated D.C. Council on Tuesday opted to side with the powerful restaurant industry over the public will and voted to take the first step toward repealing the measure.

"It is incredibly sad to see the Council representing one of the most progressive cities in the country siding with the wealthy restaurant industry over their own constituents, particularly people of color who overwhelmingly voted for this ballot measure."
—Patriotic Millionaires

"The D.C. Council just told every voter in the district that their voices don't matter," Patriotic Millionaires declared in a statement denouncing the 8-5 vote. "Regardless of the content of the ballot measure, which happens to be a well-deserved pay raise for tipped workers, for the Council to overturn an initiative that a majority of D.C. voters voted 'yes' on is appalling. It's just another sign that voters in the district are second-class citizens in their own country."

"It is incredibly sad to see the Council representing one of the most progressive cities in the country siding with the wealthy restaurant industry over their own constituents, particularly people of color who overwhelmingly voted for this ballot measure," the group concluded. "How are they any better than Republicans in Congress who have done the same thing in the past? The people of D.C. deserve better."

Tuesday's vote was just the first in a series steps D.C. lawmakers are expected to take to overturn Initiative 77, which was approved in June by 55 percent of voters in the nation's capital and only rejected by the city's wealthiest ward. Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has vowed to sign the repeal measure.

In the immediate aftermath of the June vote in favor of Initiative 77, the influential D.C. restaurant industry began aggressively lobbying lawmakers to repeal the initiative and keep intact D.C.'s current tipped mininum wage of $3.89 an hour. Under current law, the tipped minimum wage will rise to just $5 an hour by 2020, while the city's regular minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour.

According to a Public Citizen analysis published last month, D.C. councilmembers and Mayor Bowser have received over $236,000 in contributions from "anti-Initiative 77 entities" during their last two campaigns.

"This is a sad day for democracy," Melissa Boteach, senior vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. "Regardless of D.C. councilmembers' personal views on Initiative 77, the citizens of the District of Columbia overwhelmingly voted in favor of the measure back in June. Repealing this measure sends a clear signal to D.C. voters, particularly low-income communities of color, that their votes don't count."

As Ben Spielberg and economist Jared Bernstein noted in a piece for the Washington Post ahead of the vote to approve Initiative 77, tipped workers "are significantly more likely than untipped workers to report that their hourly wages, including tips, are below the minimum wage" and are far more likely to face wage theft.

"Initiative 77 targets this problem, one which is extremely costly for many of these economically vulnerable workers," Spielberg and Bernstein observed. "In the District, the poverty rate for tipped workers—who are disproportionately people of color—is twice the poverty rate for other workers."


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