Washingtonians Decide Tuesday Whether To Raise Minimum Wage For Tipped Restaurant Workers

Heather Curtis

WASHINGTON (WMAL) – The debate over whether to pay tipped restaurant workers the same minimum wage as other workers will be decided at the ballot box in D.C.’s primary Tuesday. Proponents of Initiative 77 say it would increase pay for tipped restaurant workers, but opponents argue it would lower their pay.

If passed, Initiative 77 would raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers from $3.33 to $15 by 2025.

The D.C. office of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United started advocating for one fair wage when the D.C. Council raised the minimum wage for other workers, but not tipped workers, according to the chapter’s director Diana Ramirez.

“We deserve the same professional wages as the rest of the workforce,” Ramirez said.

But restaurant workers in the District make far more than minimum wage according to Kathy Hollinger, the president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Hollinger said they can make anywhere from $20 to more than $45 an hour.

“So the idea that they want to push a one wage model where people would then make maybe $15 an hour, once it becomes 15, that’s significantly less for a worker,” Hollinger said.

Ramirez argues the majority of tipped workers in the District don’t earn anywhere near $40 an hour. Instead, they struggle to feed their families according to Ramirez.

But Hollinger said workers who aren’t struggling now would earn less if the minimum wage is increased because people wouldn’t tip them. Hollinger believes restaurant owners would impose a service charge to get the money they need to pay tipped workers $15 an hour. If people are asked to pay a 20 to 25 percent service charge on top of their bills, Hollinger said it’s unlikely people would tip their servers.

Ramirez said that’s not the case. In fact, according to Ramirez, tipping rates are higher in the seven states that have one fair wage.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.

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