Washington, D.C. lawmakers will introduce legislation in the coming days to repeal a recently passed ballot initiative that raised the minimum wage for restaurant employees and other tipped workers.
Initiative 77 passed June 19 with the support of 55 percent of primary voters, but Council member Jack Evans told a crowd of protesters Tuesday that he is already working to ensure the referendum never becomes law.
“Make sure that they know there is enormous opposition to this happening, why it is important for our restaurant industry and why it’s important more so for our workers that this does not become the law of the District of Columbia,” said Evans, speaking through a bullhorn to a crowd of anti-Initiative 77 protestors.
Evans, who represents the restaurant-laden Ward 2, said he plans to introduce a bill repealing the ballot initiative during the last legislative session before the Council’s summer recess. Evans claims the bill has the support of fellow councilman Phil Mendelson and “a number of” their colleagues.
Mendelson’s spokeswoman told the Washington City Paper that “a bill is likely going to be introduced tomorrow,” but declined to elaborate on its particulars.
Initiative 77 would incrementally raise the minimum wage for tipped workers until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025 . It remains unclear whether the impending legislation entirely repeals the ballot initiative or simply weakens it by decreasing the required wage increases.
The June ballot initiative, which was opposed by the D.C. attorney general as well as a majority of the city council, pitted the business community against labor activists who argued that a reliance on tips exposes workers to unfair treatment by diners and imperils their financial security.
“Tipping has always been and still has been always very racist and sexist,” Diana Ramirez, the director of Restaurant Opportunities Center D.C., told the Washington Post. “Even though you are providing a good service, people’s inherent biases still show up on that service line.”
Restaurant owners, and many workers, have organized protests in the wake of the initiative to voice concerns about its harmful implications for future hiring and profitability. A Harvard study of the effects of minimum-wage increases in the Bay Area found that for every $1 increase in the tipped minimum wage, there was a 14 percent increase in the chance of an average area restaurant’s closure.
Evans, along with many fellow critics of the ballot initiative, have also emphasized that the reform did not have popular support among residents.
“It’s not really the will of the people; it happens to be the will of the 17 percent of people who showed up and voted,” Evans told the Washington Post. “It’s really up to the council to act in the best interests of the city.”