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D.C. Ballot Initiative Victory Shows Strong Public Support for Higher Wages for Tipped Workers

Washington, D.C—D.C. residents overwhelmingly voted to phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers and extend D.C.’s full minimum wage to the city’s 29,000 tipped workers. Initiative 77 gradually eliminates the separate subminimum wage, bringing the current $3.33 an hour minimum wage for tipped workers up to the $15 general minimum by 2026. With popular support, thousands of restaurant, nail salon, car wash and other tipped workers and their families are now on the road to steadier incomes and more equal opportunity.

“D.C.’s voters have spoken. Tips are not a substitute for wages. With this vote, D.C.’s tipped workers will eventually receive the full minimum wage paid directly by their employer, with tips functioning as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, wages,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “The vote shows that D.C. residents believe tipped workers deserve to share in the city’s prosperity. Tipped workers in D.C. will be better able to support their families and cope with the rising cost of living so that they too can also build a future in the city. A single fair wage for all workers is the right policy—one that we hope builds momentum to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers in other states,” said Owens.

Eliminating the tipped wage is a strike against racial and gender disparities. Close to 7 in 10 tipped employees in D.C. are people of color. Data shows that nationally, tipped workers experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of the overall workforce. Women also are especially hard hit by low tipped wages, constituting two in three tipped workers nationally.

In 2016, the D.C. Council voted to raise its general minimum wage to $15 by July 2020, but unfortunately rejected proposals to phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Initiative 77 corrects this exclusion for the 29,000 personal care, transportation, and hospitality workers who help make D.C. work. The One Fair Wage campaign in D.C. beat back a vociferous “No” campaign led by restaurant industry trade groups that sought to downplay the benefits of this higher wage for waiters and bartenders.

D.C. joins the seven states that have already eliminated tipped wages—California, Washington, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, and Minnesota—as well as cities and counties, such as Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle, that have enacted $15 minimum wages that also cover tipped workers. Multiple studies have shown that businesses, including restaurants, have continued to thrive while workers enjoy higher wages in these states.