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Election Short on Surprises; Fallout Begins from Initiative 77

The District’s 2018 primary election offered no real surprises.

Mayor Muriel Bowser cruised to victory over relative unknowns James Butler and Ernest Johnson; Council remained intact with Phil Mendelson easily retaining his seat as chairman and incumbents Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie and Charles Allen outpacing the field.

Perhaps the surprise of the June 19 primary was just how easily Eleanor Holmes Norton retained her U.S. Delegate seat after what appeared to be a strong challenge by Kim Ford.

The most intriguing vote proved that of Initiative 77, which passed with 55 percent of the vote and will now end the exemption that allows businesses to pay tipped workers less than minimum wage. Employers will now be required to pay all their employees a starting hourly wage of $15 by 2025.

“We need stability, we need a base wage directly from the employer, and we shouldn’t have to rely on customers’ whims to make a base wage,” said Restaurant Opportunities Center of D.C. Director Diana Ramirez.

Ramirez told WTOP that members of the group are mostly women, people of color and immigrants who are not making ends meet with the current base wage. She added that women tipped workers will no longer have to put up with sexual harassment from customers to secure better tips.

“Having employers pay their workers is the right thing to do,” Ramirez said, pointing to positive effects in states that already pay all workers the same minimum wage, such as California and Oregon.

The One Fair Wage DC Coalition issued a statement Tuesday night in support of Initiative 77:

“We congratulate D.C. for taking this major step forward and call on [D.C.] Council to respect the will of the voters. Now that the voters have spoken, we stand ready to dedicate significant resources to working with local restaurant owners and the restaurant association to ease the implementation of Initiative 77.”

John Guggenmos, a co-owner of several D.C. nightlife establishments and part of the “NO2DC77” campaign against Initiative 77, said the measure on the ballot already began as a “confusing issue.”

“You have an initiative that’s poorly laid out — it’s just very misleading,” Guggenmos said. “It also was on a primary. Turnouts are historically low for a primary. I’m disappointed for all of our tipped employees that really did just work so hard.

“The public is going to pay more,” he said. “Our servers are going to get hurt, and I just have to hope that people will still come.”

The Save Our Tips campaign, a group of tipped workers and other members of the restaurant industry against Initiative 77, said in a statement Tuesday night:

“We’re as concerned tonight as we’ve been throughout this campaign about the negative repercussions of passing Initiative 77. As soon as it goes into effect, employers grappling with a shocking rise in labor costs will begin the process of making some hard decisions, which will involve menu pricing, staffing levels and how gratuities are collected. All of which they know will have a negative impact on their employees’ take-home pay and the quality of service that has made the District a destination food city.”

The D.C. Council could still block or change the measure. A majority of the council members and Mayor Muriel Bowser have come out against Initiative 77.

“Moving to a new model in which tipped workers would get up to $15 an hour without regard to tips could also cause cuts in shifts and hours, throwing workers into further economic uncertainty and potentially eliminating jobs,” said Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray. “These unintended consequences could have the opposite effect of what this initiative intends to do for tipped workers.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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