As the cost of living in the District skyrockets, it should be no surprise that workers are pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Parts of the District are awash in wealth, and yet many of us are struggling to make rent and pay for groceries.
What should be surprising — given our city’s restaurant boom — is that the DC Restaurant Association would go out of its way to spread absurdities about the horrors of paying a decent wage to workers.
Heeding their call, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) left tipped workers out of her proposal to raise D.C.’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, a proposal that got its first hearing on May 26. This is a mistake and a reason we are moving forward with a ballot initiative to ensure no one is left out.
Including tipped workers ensures their survival without hurting restaurants — despite what the DC Restaurant Association says to the contrary.
Here is what is at stake: The “sub-minimum wage” allows D.C. restaurants to pay tipped workers $2.77 an hour. Ending it would mean tipped workers get the same minimum wage as everyone else, plus tips.
Guess what major city in the United States is No. 1 for the most restaurants per capita? San Francisco! Seattle is fifth. San Francisco and Seattle both have higher minimum wages than the District and no sub-minimum wage. Both have more restaurants per capita than the District, which doesn’t yet make the top 10.
Higher wages for tipped workers haven’t hurt the restaurant industry like the DC Restaurant Association claims. There are more choices for places to eat out in San Francisco and Seattle, despite no sub-minimum wage.
The DC Restaurant Association claims that total income of tipped workers declines without a low sub-minimum wage — as if consumers suddenly stop tipping. In reality, Seattle and San Francisco tipped workers make more than their D.C. counterparts.
In the Seattle area, where the minimum wage was $11.00 in 2015, waiters had a median wage of $11.77. In the San Francisco area, with a minimum wage of $12.25, waiters earned $13.12 on average. In the District, waiters in 2015 earned an average hourly wage of just $9.58.
If you earn $10/hour, you make $20,800 a year — if you work 40 hours with no vacation. We aren’t talking luxury here, we are talking survival.
The DC Restaurant Association also says customers won’t be able to afford eating out. But research shows the average increase for a meal would be less than a cup of coffee.
I found identical restaurant menus online for three national chains in the District, Seattle and San Francisco. The “Legendary Garlic Fries” appetizer at Gordon Biersch is $6.50 in DC, and a quarter more ($6.75) in Seattle. At the Daily Grille in San Francisco, the Grilled Idaho Trout will cost you $21.50, compared with $19.95 in DC. Braised beef tacos at Rosa Mexicano are $17 in DC, but $18 in San Francisco.
For me, it’s worth an extra quarter for Legendary Garlic Fries so my waiter can afford groceries.
There is a huge divide in the District. The rich keep getting richer while the rest of us struggle to get by. But we shouldn’t be forced to struggle because a few rich restaurant owners don’t want to pay hard-working people a decent wage.
D.C. residents will vote on $15 an hour this November on a ballot measure that includes tipped workers. But we can’t afford to gamble. In a city as wealthy as the District, there’s no reason to leave any workers behind. Everyone should benefit from D.C.’s boom, especially the people who live and work here.
The mayor’s proposal compromises the well-being of workers choosing between groceries and rent. That isn’t a compromise any member of the council should be a part of.
The DC Restaurant Association is trying to scare us into believing that decent wages are beyond their means. That’s false. It’s time for the mayor and the D.C. Council to join us in advocating for workers to get a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Anything less is unacceptable.
Delvone Michael is director of DC Working Families.