The District lawmaker who wants to overturn a wage hike for tipped workers that was approved by voters says he has amended his bill to address some concerns raised by proponents of the increase.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) released a new version of his bill to repeal Initiative 77 that now includes provisions to address wage theft and sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.
Mendelson’s move also undercuts a separate effort by some D.C. Council members to preserve a watered-down version of the initiative and to spare lawmakers the political cost of overturning the will of the voters.
The District now allows employers to count gratuities toward the standard minimum wage while paying servers, bartenders and others a base wage of $3.89 per hour. Initiative 77, which passed in June, gradually raises that base wage until it matches the standard minimum wage in 2026.
The measure has prompted a fierce debate about whether it would help workers by guaranteeing reliable income or hurt them by raising labor costs for their employers with the potential result that jobs would be cut or businesses would fail.
Mendelson’s repeal bill is scheduled for a Tuesday vote and is expected to pass unless one of seven co-sponsors defects.
Five of 13 lawmakers have said they want to find a compromise instead of repealing Initiative 77 outright: Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
Silverman has proposed exempting servers and bartenders, who have largely testified against Initiative 77 because they fear losing tips if customers change their behavior or losing their jobs if their employers can’t absorb higher labor costs.
But Silverman wants to keep the higher base wages under Initiative 77 for tipped workers outside the restaurant industry, such as parking-lot attendants and hotel bellhops, and workers in the restaurant industry who receive tips indirectly, such as barbacks and food runners.
Mendelson dismissed the idea on Monday, suggesting that it was driven by Silverman’s “need for a win.” Silverman is running for reelection in November and is opposed by Dionne Reeder, a restaurant owner endorsed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and some in the business community.
“To say, okay we’ll do it for some but not for others, I don’t see the principle behind it,” Mendelson said. “Either a tipped wage is acceptable, or a tipped wage is unacceptable.”
But the revised version of his bill does include some ideas suggested by Silverman and others.
Mendelson added a requirement that the Department of Employment Services set up a tip line for wage theft, to report employers who fail to make up the difference when a tipped worker’s gratuities fall short of the standard minimum wage. Businesses would also be mandated to use a third-party company for payroll, as many already do, in an attempt to prevent falsified records.
Mendelson’s new bill would also require employers of tipped workers to undergo annual training on sexual harassment and wage theft.
Advocates of Initiative 77 said workers are more likely to face and have to tolerate sexual harassment from customers, not employers, because they rely on their tips.
In an interview, Silverman said she was still pushing to secure seven votes to keep wage increases for some workers under Initiative 77.
“What Phil did shows that our proposal has a lot of merit and is very reasonable, and the parts he didn’t take are very reasonable and have merit as well,” Silverman said. “Some of our most vulnerable workers are indirectly tipped workers in the restaurants or are non-restaurant workers.”
Advocates on both sides of the issue were roaming city hall on Monday to lobby lawmakers.
Kathy Hollinger, the head of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said she has no objections to Mendelson’s new proposal and believes mandated training and third-party payroll services make sense.
Diana Ramirez — the leader of the D.C. branch of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which spearheaded Initiative 77 — said that Mendelson’s revised bill falls short because it doesn’t increase wages and that she supports Silverman’s alternative plan even though it would scrap the wage increase for servers and bartenders.