Washington, D.C., voters gave tipped workers a raise earlier this month. Ballot Initiative 77, the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017, scraps the current $3.33 tipped minimum wage and sets up eight baby steps to move to $15 per hour by 2025. The federal tipped minimum wage is lower than Washington’s at $2.13 per hour. But employers must chip in to pay their tipped workers more if the minimum plus tips does not equal a total of at least $7.25.
Cities and counties may set higher minimums than the federal minimum wage rate under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Washington’s current minimum wage for workers is $12.50 an hour and is slated to increase to $15 in 2020. By 2025, tipped and nontipped hourly workers will have the same minimum earnings.
The One Fair Wage campaign said workers in the restaurant industry are “three times as likely to live in poverty” than the rest of the U.S. workforce. And wage increase advocates such as Restaurant Opportunities Center United director Diana Ramirez say tipping is a factor: She told Washington City Paper that tipping was a form of racial injustice and sexual harassment since minorities and women were more likely to be among the 14 million Americans working tipped jobs prevalent in restaurants and bars.
But a mandatory minimum wage hike hits businesses, which in turn might hire fewer people.
“Many of these jobs are held by entry-level workers with limited experience or vocational skills, the very employees meant to be helped” by a wage increase, according to the National Restaurant Association. The association cited an open letter signed by 500 economists and scholars in 2014 attesting that mandatory wage increases would not reduce poverty. The signers advocated instead a “mix of solutions … rather than across-the-board mandates that raise the cost of labor.”
The Initiative 77 minimum wage boost for Washington, ironically, will not apply to government employees or government contractors. —R.H.