Darrow Montgomery
Darrow Montgomery

The D.C. Council voted 8-5 to repeal Initiative 77 for a second and final time today. The same Councilmembers that voted no during the Oct. 2 initial vote dissented once again: Mary M. Cheh, Elissa Silverman, Charles Allen, Robert White, and Brianne Nadeau. Voters passed the measure 56 percent to 44 percent back in June.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a substitute bill with some small changes he described as “removing conflicting language” and “strengthening and clarifying” some points. There were no substantive changes, he said.

In addition to repealing the ballot measure that sought to eliminate the tipped minimum wage in eight increments so that tipped workers would eventually receive the full minimum wage directly from their employers, the repeal bill also included provisions about sexual harassment training, the creation of a wage theft tip-line, and the formation of a committee of service industry professionals that can advise the council. Many of these provisions were inspired by Silverman’s proposed amendment to 77, which failed earlier this month.

Nadeau was disappointed that the bill language details online sexual harassment training rather than in-person training.

“I want to thank you for working with me and my team on this,” Nadeau told Mendelson. “Where we didn’t agree is that sexual harassment needs to be done in person instead of some module or online program. Having done the work I’ve done on street harassment and other forms of harassment, that in-person experience is what leads to change of culture or behavior.” She notes that online training “is better than nothing” but hopes the Council can work together “on transformative change.” 

Both Silverman and Cheh reiterated why they were against the repeal bill before the vote took place. “I want to say to all those who voted for 77 that I remain optimistic that our ultimate goal of having an equitable and just city and making sure families and small businesses can thrive will be met,” said Silverman. “We will continue to push on wage theft and sexual harassment … I just don’t think we got there in this bill.”

D.C. is the second city or state to repeal a ballot measure that voters passed to increase the tipped minimum wage (which is currently $3.89 in D.C). Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the same organization that collected enough signatures to get Initiative 77 on the ballot in D.C., took a similar approach in Maine. But after the referendum passed, the state overturned it.

There has been significant blowback from the community about the Council’s decision to repeal a ballot measure that voters passed. Some councilmembers who were initially against Initiative 77 reversed course after talking to constituents who implored them to uphold the vote. Supporters of the measure felt it would help low-wage earners, particularly women and people of color. The sections of the city that are predominantly African American came out the strongest for Initiative 77.

Opponents thought the labor cost increase would be too much for operators to stomach in an already competitive industry, and tipped workers feared it would reduce their take-home pay. 

Supporters and opponents of Initiative 77 have disagreed sharply, and found little common ground over the past few months. But both sides spoke of how restaurant and bar employees stand to benefit from further professionalization of their industry. Bartending and serving can be a career, not just a layover. Some argued that the more people who see service as a profession, the easier it will be for workers to successfully advocate for benefits like health insurance.