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Looks like Mayor Muriel Bowser took a hint from the 87 percent of District residents who say they would support raising D.C.’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020: During her State of the District address on Tuesday evening, Bowser said she will send legislation to the D.C. Council in April calling for precisely that.
“In a city as prosperous as ours, we can level the playing field and we can make sure our residents are paid a good wage so fewer families are forced to leave,” the mayor said. “Answering President Obama’s call to raise the wage, cities and states across the country are proving that decent wages and strong business climates are not mutually exclusive… The raise cannot wait, and I ask the Council for swift consideration in our fight for 15.”
The announcement comes as good news for labor advocates who’ve been closely following the legal drama over a proposed ballot initiative by D.C. Working Families that has been stonewalled in local court because of a lawsuit filed by former D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Harry Wingo. The ballot initiative, Wingo and his lawyers alleged, was “arbitrary” since language the Board of Elections approved in June would exclude government contractors. They also argued the D.C. BOE was improperly constituted.
Now, it’s almost certain that a Bowser-backed minimum-wage bill would clear a Council full of the mayor’s allies and pro-labor representatives. Residents, however, can be sure that the business community will put up a fight. Three years ago, the Council approved a minimum wage increase to $11.50 an hour by this July, proceeded by small increases thereafter to adjust for inflation. With universal paid-leave legislation also in front of the Council this year—a bill the Chamber and others have opposed—some businesses aren’t happy.
To assuage those concerns, Bowser said on Tuesday that she will convene a task force including all relevant parties to study the economic impact of a minimum-wage mandate. “From paid family leave, to identifying new ways to help our residents start small businesses, the task force will present a report in six months that recommends what we can do to stay competitive and continue to prosper,” Bowser said during her address.
Previously, Bowser seemed quiet on the minimum-wage question, though in an end-of-year interview with DCist, she said the ballot initiative had problems. “Let me put it this way: If it gets on the ballot, it wouldn’t affect the federal government or the D.C. government,” she said. “That doesn’t sound right to me.”
Does that mean Bowser’s bill will include public workers and, if so, public contractors? That’s unclear as of yet: The mayor’s State of the District address didn’t specify much besides the task force and the 2020 mark.
Still, she’s sure to win points from advocates and low-wage workers. In a City Paper-D.C. Vote poll conducted earlier this year, only 12 percent of respondents opposed the $15-an-hour initiative, and one percent were unsure:
“I’m glad to see that after months of pressure from our coalition, the Mayor has come to see that the struggle of D.C. workers is very real. D.C. is the greatest city in the world and the capital of our nation—it should never be the capital of inequality. We are more than happy to work with Mayor and the Council to make $15 for D.C. a reality. However, the efforts to advance our ballot measure will continue until the Mayor and the Council have made good on her promise.”
Illustration by Lauren Heneghan; Graphic by Zach Rausnitz.