DC voters approve ballot measure eliminating minimum wage tip

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Voters in the country’s capital on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that would gradually phase out what is known as the tipped minimum wage, requiring restaurants in the city to pay the same base wage as other employers.

Initiative 82, as the measure is known, would eliminate the “tip credit” that allows employers to pay just $5.05 per hour in tips, as long as tips bring them up to the standard minimum wage of $15.20 per hour. The credit would disappear in 2027, after which the same pay floor would apply to everyone.

Proponents of abolishing the tip credit say its presence makes workers’ wages more erratic and leaves a higher proportion of them in poverty because they are so dependent on guest tips. The restaurant industry generally opposes system change, saying it will force restaurants to raise their prices or close their doors.

Federal law sets a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and allows employers to pay tips from $2.13. While most states and DC have their own laws requiring higher regular and tipping minimum wages, the $2.13 pre-tips rate is still standard in some states, including much of the South.

Tipping rules require the employer to make up the difference if an employee does not receive the full minimum wage after tips. But critics of the system say some of the law is often broken, and many workers are reluctant to pressure their employers to get more pay if they don’t get enough tips.

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“Proponents of abolishing the tip credit say its presence makes workers’ wages more erratic and leaves a larger portion of the workforce in poverty.”

Restaurant groups urged diners to vote against the DC initiative, as the city’s typical server or bartender already earns well above minimum wage. In a Washington Post opinion pieceKathy Hollinger, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, wrote that “most tipped workers fear that a higher base wage will affect their earning potential and that they will end up earning less than they earn now.”

“The majority of tipped workers in DC are people of color and immigrants who work in very casual restaurants, as well as nail salons, car washes and parking attendants,” said Saru Jayaraman, the group’s president. told Washingtonian.

Restaurant groups tried and failed to keep the initiative of the vote, arguing in court that the city council had miscounted voters’ signatures for the referendum.

This isn’t the first time DC residents have tried to move away from the tipped minimum wage. Voters approved a similar referendum in 2018, but the city council overturned it. This time, however, the will of the voters seems to be holding out sooner, with councilors showing up less need for withdrawal.