D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour passed a committee vote Wednesday, setting up a final series of votes on the measure by the D.C. Council this month.
The council so far appears likely to keep intact the bulk of Bowser’s plan: matching New York City and California with one of the nation’s highest hourly minimums. The District’s minimum wage would increase by about 70 cents a year, reaching $15 by 2020. After that, it would be indexed to inflation, probably rising a couple of percentage points each year.
The council’s Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee, however, did ramp down a proposal by Bowser (D) to increase tipped workers’ guaranteed minimum. Tipped workers in D.C. currently guaranteed a base rate of $2.77 an hour. Employers are supposed to make up the difference if a worker does not reach the hourly minimum through earned tips.
Under Bowser’s plan, tipped workers’ base rate would have risen to $7.50 an hour. But committee chairman Vincent B, Orange (D-At Large) said it wasn’t clear if that would upset the balance in the city’s restaurant industry, and he persuaded colleagues to take down the hourly base rate to $5.55, or roughly double the current $2.77.
Although the measure passed Orange’s committee unanimously, a majority of committee members said they were still uncertain whether $5.55 was, in fact, the right wage and remained open to further changes.
Both sides vowed to keep lobbying the council ahead of a first vote Tuesday.
Unions and other activists are collecting signatures to put a flat $15 minimum-wage measure on the District’s November ballot. Following the committee vote Wednesday, they criticized the mayor and council for appearing poised to allow a discrepancy to continue between tipped workers and other low-wage earners.
“I guess it’s going to be up to voters to make the decision as to whether $15 should be the wage for everyone or if we continue with this antiquated way of paying people a sub-minimum wage,” said Delvone Michael, executive director of DC Working Families and a member of the coalition pushing the ballot measure.
Andrew Kline, legislative counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said that the organization believes $5.55 is too high and that it would be pushing the council to adopt a base rate closer to $4, saying tipped workers already make the minimum and more in nearly every restaurant in the city.
Without mentioning the debate over the tipped rate, Bowser praised Orange for advancing the measure, saying she would continue working for passage of the measure to “put more money in the pockets of working families.”