Anti-77 protestors gathered at the Wilson Building on Monday. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Looks like Initiative 77 may not become the law of the District after all.

On Tuesday, seven of 13 D.C. councilmembers introduced a bill to repeal the initiative outright, despite the fact that D.C. voters approved it 55 to 45 percent in the June 19 primary election. News of the potential repeal relieved opponents—including restaurant owners, servers, and bartenders—who say the initiative would harm the local hospitality industry. They believe it would lead to restaurant closures, job cuts, and a reduction in take-home pay for tipped workers. 

The referendum phases out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, currently $3.89 an hour, until it equals the standard minimum wage of $15 an hour in 2025. Supporters of the initiative—led by the D.C. chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the labor group that got the measure on the ballot—say having “one fair wage” paid directly to tipped workers alleviates wage theft and reduces sexual harassment and racial bias.

The Council’s repeal bill is a little over a page in length and is named the “Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018.” It simply states that “Initiative No. 77 … is repealed.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson quietly filed the bill with the Council’s Office of the Secretary instead of publicly introducing it during a Council committee meeting on Tuesday. Typically, councilmembers take the latter route to make a splash with new legislation, offering comments in the process. (Both methods are allowed under Council rules.)

But on Monday, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who supports the repeal, revealed that Mendelson and other councilmembers would propose the legislation the following day. Speaking on the steps of the Wilson Building with a megaphone, Evans encouraged protestors who had assembled to visit his colleagues’ offices to tell them to overturn Initiative 77.

“Make sure that they know there’s enormous opposition to [this],” he said. A spokeswoman for Mendelson confirmed that a bill would likely be proposed.

After Evans’ cri de cœur, ROC–DC leader Diana Ramirez said in a statement that “it would be deeply undemocratic for Council to overturn the will of the people.” “DC voters don’t like it when Republicans in Congress do it, and we trust Council will not stoop to that level,” she said, adding that workers’ take-home pay would increase in the District as a result of Initiative 77, “just as it has elsewhere.”

Seven U.S. states, including California, Minnesota, and Washington, do not have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. The District’s immediate neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, do.

The Council has previously overturned the results of ballot initiatives, like term limits for D.C. officials. But it will not formally consider repealing Initiative 77 until the fall, after the legislature’s imminent summer recess. The Council must hold a hearing on the bill, after which point it will be marked-up before two required votes. The specific provisions of the legislation could change along the way.

The other councilmembers who preliminarily signed the repeal bill are At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White