Op-EdOpinion

WILLIAMS: African-American Tipped Employees Need D.C. Council to Repeal Initiative 77

I never planned on making a career in the hospitality industry. But starting in 2004, in my second year at Howard University, I began supporting myself as a part-time tipped wage employee. I initially thought I was working part-time to pay the rent while going to school. But when I realized I enjoyed the job I already had, I decided to stop taking out student loans and turn my part time job into a full-time career, and I was great at it. That decision changed my life. I was able to afford to stay in D.C. and started a family. In fact, my son starts Pre-K3 at Langley Elementary soon.

Dawn Williams
Dawn Williams

My story is not unique, but it is illustrative of the opportunities that the hospitality presents young African American women like me in the District. This level of opportunity is most of all due to tips. If Initiative 77 is not repealed this would all change and this level of opportunity would be severely compromised. I cannot support a law that hurts the very people that it is intended to help an that is what Initiative 77 does.

The origins of this initiative are even more problematic. This initiative is being imposed on the District by a New York-based organization that is working on a national campaign to eliminate our tips by requiring employers to pay a base wage of $15/ hour. This irritates me because I know that minimum wage is already guaranteed to tipped workers like me by D.C. and Federal law – most tipped employees make well above minimum wage. Without repeal of Initiative 77, D.C. will also be at a competitive disadvantage. D.C. has a competitive labor market. The excellent employees will simply go across city lines if we are faced with cut hours or reduced take-home pay, as a result of Initiative 77.

That’s why I support the proposed repeal by the Council. A D.C. Council review is a part of the democratic process in the District. The Council’s duty is to protect all residents and be good stewards of the economy. In fact, the home rule charter of this city gives the Council the power and responsibility to consider ballot initiatives once they have been passed. An issue as complicated as Initiative 77, deserves more consideration than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on a primary ballot. Besides, this is personal for me.

Initiative 77 is a harmful law that doesn’t even address the issues it is claiming to fix in a meaningful way. For instance, sexual harassment and racism exist at all levels in our society and no hourly wage can fix that in the way that well considered policy will. Wage theft is despicable, but we don’t need a duplicative law. We need to enforce the tough laws that already exist and streamline the reporting system so that non-compliance is detected and punished.

I thank the voters who thought this would be helpful, but unfortunately, they were voting for a poorly and deceptively written law. If someone wants to just make minimum wage, there are jobs for that person. But the time, thoughtfulness and energy that I give to my career every day, deserves a greater potential than minimum wage and the salary that I earn reflects that. Above all, Initiative 77 would be a pay cut not a pay raise.

I want to continue to grow my career and family here in D.C. and my tips make that possible, but without the tipping system I would absolutely consider moving elsewhere with my family. That’s not what I want but if Initiative 77 is not repealed I would rather do that than risk losing hours, shifts, and income. Listen to tipped employees. We must support the full repeal of Initiative 77.

Dawn Williams is a D.C. resident, a mother of a 3-year-old son and has been a tipped worker in D.C. since 2004.

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