Laura Hayes

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In a few hours the D.C. Council will vote on emergency and permanent legislation repealing Initiative 77. But before that could happen, councilmembers had to decide where they stood on Councilmember Elissa Silverman’s proposed compromise amendment. The amendment failed 8-5 with only Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Silverman, Robert White, Charles Allen, and Mary M. Cheh voting in favor of it. 

Silverman, with support from Cheh and Nadeau, announced the compromise amendment on Friday, summarized here. It split tipped workers into two categories. The tip credit would remain in place for servers and bartenders, increasing to $5 in 2020 and then annually with inflation. Indirectly tipped restaurant employees, like bar backs and food runners, and non-restaurant tipped workers like valet drivers, would see the tip credit phased out more gradually than Initiative 77 proposed. It would increase to $5 in 2019 and then by $1.40 a year until the tip credit is phased out completely in July 2030. 

Silverman’s amendment also tacked on a significant number of strategies to address myriad issues that came to light during the Initiative 77 discussion. Wage theft, sexual harassment, and racial disparities were front and center. 

The amendment proposed the creation of a 24-hour, anonymous tip line to report wage theft; the establishment of mandatory sexual harassment training for restaurant and bar employees; incentives for more businesses to open in Wards 7 and 8; and the creation of a task force to monitor implementation. 

Several of these same stipulations were since added to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s repeal bill, which Silverman noted in her final plea to her colleagues.

“I want to ask my colleagues one more time to think about the repeal,” she said. “This is a gut check vote. The bill that was circulated can appropriate or steal parts of our compromise but it’s still an all out repeal.”

Mendelson responded, “By splitting the difference, you’ve now created a situation where employer will simply get rid of the bussers and get more servers. It hurts the people this amendment intends to help. It’s clear there are a lot of workers who are supposed to be helped by Initiative 77 who have testified and put in endless hours saying, ‘We don’t want this. That’s fundamental.’”

Tipped workers on both sides took issue with the compromise. 

Sam Peters, who has bartended at Betsy and Belga Café, has previously voiced support for Initiative 77. “Silverman’s bill is going to lead to the elimination of support positions in restaurants,” he says. “Owners are either going to exploit servers and make them absorb support staff’s duties, or they’re going to hire support staff and call them servers.”

“The suggestion that barbacks, a position I once held, food runners, and bussers, are currently abused under the current system is an affront to us workers who know them,” says Michael Haresign, who bartends at Kitty O’Sheas in Tenleytown. He’s voiced his opposition of 77. “Taking them off this system would be incredibly detrimental because often they are getting a percentage from each member of staff,” meaning three bartenders might tip out one barback. “If these positions are eliminated because of labor costs, the entry level jobs won’t necessarily still be there.” Haresign wanted a full repeal, “with an open door to come back with legislation that has been deliberately worked on by workers, and management.”

Silverman believed her compromise “listens to all voices in this city, upholding the spirit of 77 while listening to the many servers, bartenders, and operators, as well as workers like Mr. King [a non-restaurant tipped employee]. The amendment takes most vulnerable restaurant workers and non-restaurant workers up to minimum wage but at a slower pace.”