Much to the chagrin of many District voters, restaurant workers and grassroots activists, the D.C. Council have voted to repeal Initiative 77, just shy of four months after voters approved the law requiring the gradual increase of the tipped worker minimum wage to $15.
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At large) and repeal bill sponsors D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Council member Anita Bonds (D-At large), Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) affirmed their support for Initiative 77’s repeal.
The seven lawmakers introduced the Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act in early July, days before the start of summer recess, citing fears among constituents in the restaurant industry, employers and employees about the possibility of food price increases, job cuts and closing of businesses.
In addition to repealing Initiative 77, the bill also requires the mayor to create a website about employees’ rights, establishes a phone line to report tipped wage law violations and connects tipped workers, owners, operators and managers with sexual harassment and wage law training.
Upon their return to the Wilson Building in September, council members hosted a hearing about the Initiative 77 repeal that included testimony from employees, business owners and advocates on both sides of the issue.
On Tuesday, a fiscal impact statement submitted to the council by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt said Initiative 77, estimated to cost $750,000 this fiscal year, would not be sustainable. The report also said the DC Department of Employment Services already carries out some provisions outlined in the ballot measure.
Despite concerns about what has been described among Initiative 77 opponents as unclear language on the June 19 ballot, D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At large), Robert White (D-At large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) voted against the repeal.
In a statement during Tuesday’s hearing, White said, after hearing comments on both sides of the issue, he had decided to defer to the judgment of the voters.
Initiative 77, supported by the national “One Fair Wage” campaign, becomes the fifth voter-approved ballot measure to be overturned by the D.C. Council since Home Rule. The repeal bill now goes to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), a vocal critic of Initiative 77, who’s expected to sign the legislation.
Some activists warn that the outcome may further perpetuate low voter turnout.