Stephanie Rudig
Stephanie Rudig

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If you plan to attend next Monday’s hearing on the bill repealing Initiative 77, bring snacks that do not require refrigeration. As of this morning, 140 people are signed up to testify. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s office expects the hearing to last more than eight hours. 

On June 19, D.C. residents voted in favor of Initiative 77, which seeks to phase out the tipped minimum wage in eight increments until it reaches $15 in 2025. Starting in 2026 there would no longer be a tip credit. All workers would be paid the same minimum wage directly from their employer.

A tip credit allows restaurant operators to pay tipped workers a lower base wage (currently $3.89 in D.C.), with customers paying most of workers’ wages with tips. If tips fail to carry a worker over the standard minimum wage (currently $13.25 in D.C.), the employer is obligated to make up the difference.

Seven of 13 D.C. councilmembers introduced a bill on July 10 to repeal Initiative 77 outright. It’s about a page in length and titled the “Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018.” Supporters of the initiative, which passed 55 percent to 45 percent, fired back with everything from a rap video to bringing Jane Fonda to the Wilson Building

The September 17 public hearing will allow proponents and opponents of the repeal bill to voice their concerns. Expect the lion’s share of them to be tipped workers, restaurant owners, and labor activists.

“This is large, but I won’t say that it’s extremely large,” says Lindsey Walton, Mendelson’s director of communications. “It may be in the Committee of the Whole’s top five but hearings on gay marriage and the comprehensive plan had more. This doesn’t break our record, but it’s still a lot. If something is wildly controversial, we get a lot more witnesses period, so we’re not shocked.” 

The hearing is set to begin at 11 a.m. to accommodate as many bar and restaurant employees as possible before they have to clock in to work dinner service. Testifiers will likely be given three minutes each. Walton expects some no shows or testifiers who miss their numbers, but she still thinks it will stretch longer than eight hours because councilmembers will be able to make opening statements and ask questions throughout the hearing. 

The deadline to sign up to testify is this Thursday at 5 p.m. To sign up e-mail or call (202) 724-8196. No one can sign-up for someone else or send a list of people to testify. Individuals must call or e-mail themselves. Walton says the list of witnesses will be posted on Mendelson’s website on Friday. 

“We don’t want to discourage people from signing up to speak, but be prepared for what you’re in for,” Walton says. “If you miss your turn, we have to keep it moving.”