D.C. Council candidate Mara opposes mandatory restaurant sick leave, minimum wage hike

D.C. Council candidate Patrick Mara (R) opposes expanding the city’s sick-leave law to include restaurant tip workers as well as an increase in the minimum wage, setting up a sharp difference between him and the five other candidates in the at-large race.

Mara, widely viewed as a leading contender in the April 23 election, staked out his position during a candidates forum Tuesday night at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

In 2008, the D.C. Council approved a law that requires city employers to offer three to seven paid sick days per year, depending on their number of employees. But the law exempted wait staff and bartenders who largely rely on tips for income.

Several organizations, including Jews United for Justice, are now pushing to broaden the law to include restaurant workers. They argue current law is a health hazard because restaurant workers feel compelled to work when ill because they cannot afford to take a day off.

But in an answer that appeared to unnerve the audience at the forum, Mara said he likely would not support expanding the law because he worried it would harm small businesses. Mara noted that until recently he was part owner of a Columbia Heights restaurant, Meridian Pint.

“This is one cost that could put those businesses in lower Georgia Avenue out of business,” said Mara, adding he’s confident business owners can work out issues such as paid sick leave with employees without government involvement.

The other candidates in the race— Democrats Elissa Silverman, Paul Zukerberg Matthew Frumin and incumbent Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Statehood Green Party Candidate Perry Rudd— all suggested Mara was out of touch.

“Free market capitalists would have us all poor,” Redd said, to laughs from the audience.

Bonds called paid sick leave “a moral issue. . .about the health of the community.”

“We have to be careful that one part of the community and one set of employees not be treated differently than others,’ Bonds said.

Silverman has been the most vocal candidate on the matter, issuing a call two weeks ago for her opponents to join her in supporting the issue. She’s also asked Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to draft legislation mandating paid sick leave for restaurant workers.

After the forum, Mara’s staff attempted to rush him out of the WDJCC as reporters and participants sought additional clarity on his views about the issue. In 2008, Mara defeated former Council member Carol Schwartz (At-Large) in the GOP primary in part due to support from business leaders upset that Schwartz pushed through the sick leave bill.

When asked if he supported the underlying sick leave bill, Mara said he does “not oppose decided law.” Mara also said it was inappropriate to ask candidates for positions on “a concept.”

In the forum, Mara also appeared uneasy when a participant asked each candidate to write down how much they think the city’s $8.25 minimum wage should be. Mara wrote down $8.25, but said he thought the question was unfair.

Under current law, the city’s minimum wage rate is required to be $1 higher than the federal rate.

The other candidates suggested the District should dramatically increase the minimum wage and set what would be the highest state minimum wage in the nation.

Redd would like to see a $14 rate while Silverman and Bonds both wrote down $12.50. Zukerberg and Frumin would set a $11.75 rate.

Last month, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) endorsed a proposal by President Obama to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, which result in a $10 rate in the District.

But Gray and some council members have been skittish about seeking to increase the city’s rate absent a federal increase, fearing it would harm the business environment.

 
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