While the D.C. Council has faced backlash in its recent efforts to repeal a voter-approved ballot measure on the city’s minimum wage, some council members contend that those election results don’t reflect messages they’ve heard from constituents in the weeks leading up to the D.C. primary.

Initiative 77, which passed by a 10-point margin on June 19, would’ve required business owners to pay their employees the full minimum wage, now $13.25 per hour and set to increase to $15 by 2020. Local lawmakers who didn’t support the ballot measure told The Informer that wage increases would hamper restaurant workers.

“D.C. already has regulations that allow tipped workers to receive the minimum wage if workers tips don’t add up to the minimum wage,” Trayon White (D-Ward 8), one of seven council members who co-introduced the Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 on July 10, wrote in an email Friday in reference to the Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016, which ensures the increase of tipped workers’ minimum wage to $5 by 2020.

“This is a matter of oversight and enforcement, not a minimum wage cap on wages,” White wrote. “Most of the workers I spoke to in Ward 8 said they already make more than minimum wage. This was a national effort to change it and D.C. workers did not agree with it.”

When the council reconvenes in the fall, tipped workers and others will have an opportunity to provide insight about matters of compensation during public hearings.

Since the 1980s, the council has overturned ballot initiatives four times, including one in 1996 that capped local campaign contributions and another in 2001 establishing term limits.

Before the primary, Initiative 77 had only the support of Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who recently expressed her disagreement with her colleagues’ recent actions.

“I’m hearing from the people that it’s wrong for the council to overturn the outcome,” Cheh said.

Cheh, who said careful study of the similar wage increases across the country influenced her support of Initiative 77, recounted her attempts to negotiate with the restaurant industry and other opponents of the bill.

“I tried to put out the idea about a compromise like a longer implementation period of 15 years or not implementing Initiative 77 until Maryland and Virginia jumped on board,” she said.

The current pushback in D.C. mirrors a situation in 2016 when Maine’s business community and tipped workers railed against wage-hike legislation.

The pressure against Initiative 77 also received national attention. Hours after council members introduced the repeal bill during a Committee of the Whole meeting, Republican lawmakers in Congress brought forth an amendment to the U.S. House’s 2019 spending bill blocking the use of funds for Initiative 77.

In D.C., lawmakers such as Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who was also among the majority of council members who introduced the repeal, have expressed their concerns about what they described as the initiative’s lack of clarity.

“Initiative 77 wasn’t clear as to what the structure should be as it relates to tipped workers,” Bonds said. “People told me they didn’t understand what they were voting for. That’s why I think it was close. We’ve had other types of issues on the ballot and there was a 20 to 70 percent, much wider margin.

“Those who were confused didn’t know exactly what to do,” she said. “Because it was an initiative, they thought it would be good.”

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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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