By B. De Zwaan
Howard University News Service
Initiative 82, also known as the District of Columbia Tip Credit Elimination Act of 2021, was a divisive measure on the D.C. ballot this election season, but passed by 74% to 26%. It is a revival of Initiative 77, also known as Minimum Wage Increase for Tipped Workers, from 2018. Initiative 77 initially passed, but D.C. Council later repealed it.
Tipped employees currently earn a base pay of $5.05 an hour plus tips. If the base pay and tips don’t equal the current minimum wage of $15.20 an hour, employers are required to pay the difference, known as a tip credit. Under Initiative 82, the tip credit would gradually disappear as the minimum wage rises for tipped workers.
“I think it is not convenient for bartenders or servers, because we make more than,” said Juan Pablo Aguirre, a former bartender, now general manager.
Many tipped workers agree and are scared that the tipping culture will change if the initiative is approved. Initiative 82 would not officially go into effect until after a 30-day period of congressional review.
The initiative would slowly increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.05 to $6 by Jan. 1. It would go to $8 by July 1 and increase by $2 each July until it reaches $14 on July 1, 2026, and is then equal to D.C.’s minimum wage by July 1, 2027.
Process to the Ballot
In June 2021, Ryan O’Leary, a former tipped worker and leader of the D.C. Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry, filed the initiative with the D.C. Board of Elections, which approved it and published the ballot title. From Oct. 13, 2021, until Feb. 22, 2022, the proponents had to collect signatures so the initiative could appear on the ballot. Their petition had 34,000 signatures by the deadline.
Then on March 7, bartender Valerie Graham contacted the D.C. Board of Elections to challenge the petition’s validity. After conducting research on a random sample of signatures and all Ward 6 signatures, the board concluded on April 6 that there were only 27,026 signatures. This meant that the initiative would not appear on the June primary ballot, just the November ballot.
The D.C. Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry is the leader of the campaign for Initiative 82. The committee describes itself as “a political campaign organized by current and former tipped workers as well as concerned citizens who believe in eliminating the archaic tip credit.”
Endorsements on the committee’s website include Dr. Bronner’s, the Democratic Socialists of America, and a few Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and candidates. Dr. Bronner’s donated 25,000 candy bars, the restaurant committee said on Twitter. The committee used the candy to spread joy to those who receive them, but also to push their message forward to voters.
Attention DC! The campaign has been gifted 25k @DrBronner #fairtrade #organic chocolate bars & we’d like to share them with you! It’s a great Halloween gift! Come by the office, grab a case of chocolate & campaign signs! #yeson82 DM us for more details. pic.twitter.com/I5SGqQhPis
— Build Better Restaurants DC 🗳#YESon82 (@bttrrstrntsdc) October 28, 2022
“I believe that Initiative 82 is a very good idea,” ANC 8C Chairperson Salim Adofo said. “It will help those who are tipped wage workers be able to have a certain level of balance in their life. It will help them to be able to actually financially plan, because they can at least look at what their minimum income would be.”
“When you make less than the normal minimum wage,” Adofo added, “it is hard to have a quality of life and to budget and plan out what your weekly or monthly are going to look like when you are solely relying on tips.”
Many supporters of the initiative agree about the potential increase in financial security for tipped workers.
The opponents of Initiative 82 include the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, the Republican Party of D.C., the D.C. Nightlife Council and a grassroots campaign of restaurant workers. They held a rally on Monday to reach more people right before the election.
“If you are starting from a premise of stabilizing the working class and getting them better wages, I’m for it,” said a former tipped worker, now part-owner of Beuchert’s Saloon and Fight Club Mackenzie Conway. “In the past for 77 and slight things with this policy for 82 seem to be a political tool in a classically very left city. However, what does it actually look like for the worker?” Both Beuchert’s Saloon and Fight Club put vote no on Initiative 82 signs in their windows.
The Washington Post editorial team also wrote an opinion piece telling citizens to vote no on the initiative. “We opposed Initiative 77 in 2018,” the editorial stated. “This year’s Initiative 82 is even riskier, given the fraught economic climate.”
Questions remain about how this will impact small businesses and the income of tipped workers, but they will not be answered until after Jan. 1 if Congress approves the initiative.
B. De Zwaan is a reporter for HUNewsService.com.