Anti-77 protestors gather in front of Councilmember Elissa Silverman's office. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.
Anti-77 protestors gather in front of Councilmember Elissa Silverman's office. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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District lawmakers are maneuvering to undo the will of voters through legislation that would change the outcome of Initiative 77, the ballot measure to phase out the lower tipped minimum wage for tipped workers in D.C. that passed 55 to 45 percent in the June 19 primary election.

Holding a bullhorn on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building on Monday, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans told a crowd of anti-77 protestors that on Tuesday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and “a number of” councilmembers would introduce “a bill to overturn Initiate 77” during their last legislative session before the Council’s summer recess. 

Evans—whose ward includes many restaurants downtown and in other neighborhoods—received cheers while he encouraged those gathered to canvass councilmembers’ offices and “make sure that they know there’s enormous opposition to” the referendum becoming law. He opposed the initiative along with a majority of the Council, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine leading up to the June vote.

A spokeswoman for Mendelson confirms to City Paper that “a bill is likely going to be introduced tomorrow,” but does not have details about what it would say, or which councilmembers would support it. She says the legislation would not be an “emergency” measure, though, meaning the Council would have to hold a public hearing on it in the fall before marking it up and voting on it twice.

Assuming such a bill were to pass, it would then head to Bowser’s desk for her signature. Between those steps and the required 30-day congressional review period for regular D.C. legislation, it would likely not go into effect until the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019 at the earliest.

As approved by District voters, Initiative 77 raises the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers and other tipped workers in eight increments to equal the standard minimum wage by 2025, when it would be $15 an hour. The measure mirrors minimum wage laws in seven U.S. states where tipped workers are entitled to the same minimum wage as non-tipped workers.

Up until now, employers in the District and most U.S. states are able to use what’s known as a “tip credit” to pay tipped workers a lower base wage that tips then supplement. However, if tips do not carry an employee’s wage over the general minimum wage, the employer must cover the difference. On July 1, the standard minimum wage went up to $13.25 an hour and the tipped minimum wage went up to $3.89 an hour. 

It is currently unclear whether the Council’s prospective legislation would fully repeal the tipped minimum wage increases stipulated by Initiative 77, or, instead, would water-down the initiative by extending the phase-in period or reducing the wage increases. After a contentious public hearing in the fall, the Council could amend whatever bill emerges in various ways.

If the Council does repeal or amend Initiative 77, that would not be the first time it changed the outcome of a ballot measure. In 2001, a Council supermajority overturned a 1994 referendum that had established term limits for councilmembers.

Initiative 77 passed with broad voting support across the District, with “yes” majorities in each of D.C.’s eight wards except for Ward 3, and especially strong support east of the Anacostia River. Still, under one in five registered voters cast ballots in the June election.