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The Case to Vote YES on Initiative 77 for #OneFairWage By Melissa Boteach and Eliza Schultz


Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

Ed. Note: A case to Vote No on Initiative 77 will be posted at this time tomorrow.

By Melissa Boteach and Eliza Schultz

We, like many of our fellow D.C. residents, have seen the “Save Our Tips” signs all over town. As anti-poverty advocates and researchers, we take seriously the argument that we should listen to people who are directly affected by a given policy. There are many well-intentioned people who plan to vote against Initiative 77 – the ballot initiative that would phase out the sub-minimum wage earned by tipped workers by 2026 – because they know servers, mainly in higher-end restaurants and bars, who are against it.

But we also know many servers (in D.C. as well as in the eight states that don’t have a separate tipped wage) and can tell you that a big reason you’re not hearing a lot of voices from tipped workers in favor of Initiative 77 is due to fear of retaliation. Workers are literally walking into their places of employment bombarded with signs saying “Save Our Tips” – even right above where they clock in. Publicly speaking out when you’re already economically insecure and need the job is difficult.

The debate in D.C. over 77 has been riddled with misinformation and one-sided arguments, funded by a corporate campaign that is paying tens of thousands to consulting firms so that they don’t have to pay their workers more.

To that end, we wanted to share some facts on 77 with you:

This bill does not eliminate tips. Rather, it phases out the poverty-level tipped minimum wage. Currently, tips are supposed to make up the difference between the $3.33 per hour that restaurants pay their tipped workers and the current D.C. minimum wage of $12.50, and if they don’t, restaurant owners are supposed to supplement workers’ wages. In practice, restaurants routinely shirk that responsibility, which leaves workers vulnerable to economic insecurity. The Department of Labor investigated 9,000 restaurants between 2010 and 2012 and found 1,170 tip credit infractions.

This bill will not put tipped workers out of a job. Eight states and a handful of cities have eliminated the sub-minimum wage and, contrary to the dystopian future that the restaurant industry has predicted for D.C., the restaurant industry has continued to thrive in those places. What’s more, poverty rates are lower among tipped workers in these states, and median earnings are 14 percent higher. Tipping behavior is virtually identical in states with and without a separate tipped minimum wage. The gender wage gap is smaller among tipped workers in states without a separate tipped minimum wage. (The way customers tip is often both sexist and racist!)

This bill will help reduce poverty and inequality. D.C. is one of the most unequal cities in the U.S. This ballot initiative will help boost economic mobility for some of our city’s most vulnerable workers, and there’s no reason to believe it will hurt the higher-income tipped workers. It will also help mitigate sexual harassment and the gender and racial wage gaps for tipped workers since implicit bias plays a role in how much people tip and tipped workers often need to tolerate unacceptable behavior from managers (to get the good tables) and patrons (to get high tips).

For more information, check out TalkPoverty’s piece on why #OneFairWage will reduce poverty, mitigate the gender and racial pay gaps, and help curb sexual harassment.

Melissa Boteach is the Senior Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, and Eliza Schultz is the Research Associate for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.

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