Credit: Lauren Heneghan

After District officials, labor unions, and members of the business community announced a deal last Tuesday that will increase D.C.’s general and tipped minimum wages to $15 and $5 an hour by 2020, a national group that represents restaurant workers says Tuesday morning it will file a new ballot initiative to equalize those two local wage standards.

Restaurant Opportunities Center United intends to file a separate referendum from the one worker advocates had been collecting signatures for after a judge green-lighted their efforts in early April, and until the deal was made public last week. Dropping the original ballot initiative supported by D.C. Working Families and key unions like SEIU was part of the agreement, which pegs the general minimum wage to inflation and does not address the tipped minimum wage after 2020. 

“Mayor [Muriel] Bowser and the D.C. Council’s recent wage deal was great news for many workers, but it certainly was not for D.C.’s 29,000 tipped workers,” ROC United says in a release. “Largely women and people of color, they face disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment as a result of the sub-minimum wage system. An increase from $2.77 an hour to just $5—compared with an increase to $15 for the rest of D.C.’s workers—is a disrespectful drop in the bucket toward the equity and dignity they deserve for their hard and valuable work.”

In April, the mayor proposed legislation that set the general minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 and the tipped minimum to $7.50 an hour by 2022. The D.C. Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, chaired by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, then marked up the bill on June 1 so that the tipped minimum would be $5.55 an hour by 2020. The tipped minimum got tweaked to $5 an hour through the deal and an amendment.

All workers (including servers) are entitled to the full minimum wage by law if the addition of tips does not get them up to the general hourly minimum. But ROC United and others have expressed concern over whether that law is enforced. In passing the most recent minimum wage bill, councilmembers committed to collecting data on the issue. Last week, Councilmember David Grosso proposed studying the viability of a “basic income” system in the District.