The council also mandated the creation of an anonymous tip line to report wage theft and the training of restaurant managers and others on preventing sexual harassment and complying with minimum-wage laws.
Lawmakers touted these policies as a better way to address the plight of tipped workers, instead of making their bosses pay a higher minimum wage in addition to their tips under Initiative 77.
But nothing came of the measures.
Neither Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) nor Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who spearheaded the repeal, included the $2.6 million in the budget necessary for city regulators to enforce the new requirements.
“It’s egregious because they overturned a vote and they claimed they were going to do all this stuff to get at the issues people cared about and never did,” said the Rev. Graylan Hagler, an anti-poverty activist who waged a campaign against repealing Initiative 77. “It tells voters they don’t matter, they don’t count.”
Bowser’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on why funding for the measures was not in her last budget proposal.
Mendelson chided Restaurant Opportunities Center D.C., the worker advocacy group behind the effort, for not pushing the council to fund the new requirements on employers.
“The mayor should try harder this year to include it in her budget, but I would also note the so-called, self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us as far as I know,” Mendelson said in an interview.
A representative of the restaurant worker advocacy group said the organization’s focus was on the 2020 council elections and to eventually revive the fight to eliminate a separate tipped wage, not on the other changes Mendelson offered as a consolation prize.
Mendelson also criticized D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) because she leads the committee that controls the budget for the city agency that needed funding to implement the measures aiding tipped workers.
Silverman said Mendelson was “being disingenuous” because he has control over more money in the budget and should have championed funding for his own bill.
Initiative 77 was part of a national effort to help restaurant workers.
The initiative would have ended a two-tier minimum-wage system that allows employers to pay tipped workers only a few dollars an hour as long as customer gratuities add up to the standard minimum wage. It would have gradually increased the lower tipped minimum wage until there was one minimum wage paid by all employers.
Proponents said the law would provide stable wages to workers by reducing their reliance on tips. But opponents — including a vocal group of hundreds of restaurant workers — said the law would have threatened the city’s burgeoning dining scene and risked lower take-home pay if customers skimped on tips.
Voters approved Initiative 77 in the June 2018 primary election by a 12-point margin. But the D.C. Council, a majority of which opposed the ballot measure before the vote, and the mayor repealed it within months.
To implement the other parts of the repeal legislation, elected officials needed to set aside money to hire five compliance specialists and a full-time staffer for a new Tipped Worker Coordinating Council. The city also needed to come up with $100,000 for a public awareness campaign and $700,000 for a website informing workers about their labor rights in the District.
“What we put in the repeal bill was some ideas and strategies to help with regard to wage theft, but wage theft is still illegal regardless of whether the mayor chose to fund these new programs,” Mendelson said.
While the mayor proposes the D.C. budget, the council can shift money around and fund programs over her objections.
Mendelson said he did not go to bat for the worker-friendly measures in the Initiative 77 repeal law because much of the budget fight was consumed by schools and housing.
Some of the provisions to help tipped workers in the repeal legislation — including the wage theft hotline and sexual harassment training requirements — came from legislation offered by Silverman as an alternative to repealing Initiative 77.
“The chairman put those provisions in to appear like he was compromising,” Silverman said. “If he’s putting the blame on me, he had no intention of ever wanting these provisions to be implemented, which is really disappointing and disingenuous, especially given that voters approved Initiative 77.”
Meanwhile, restaurants are in a bind.
The law imposes requirements on them for reporting wages, providing information to employees and undergoing sexual harassment training, but the city isn’t enforcing those actions.
“It’s very confusing,” said Kathy Hollinger, who leads the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Hollinger said her association has held two training seminars attended by hundreds on the requirements of the law, so businesses are prepared to comply if the rules ever take effect.
Some of the voters who were aghast when their representatives repealed Initiative 77 were dumbfounded when told that nothing came from the council’s compromise proposal.
“Not only did they not take voters seriously, but they didn’t even take themselves seriously,” said Fernando Laguarda, a law professor who lives in Tenleytown. “They need to stop making promises they know they can’t keep.”