Washington, DC

Ed. Note: You can read ‘The Case to Vote YES on Initiative 77 for #OneFairWage’ By Melissa Boteach and Eliza Schultz here.

by Lauren Kosiba

I graduated from American University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. I’m sure most students shared my experience – it was a long road to get to walk that stage, full of late nights proofreading term papers, conference calls or meetings for group projects, and check-ins with advisors to stay on track. However, what some of my classmates found most interesting about my experience was how I supported myself throughout my program – I was a server. They saw me on weekends when they were brunching with their friends; they were gracious enough to be flexible with group meeting times when I had to work evening shifts. I even helped a few of my classmates, who expressed an interest in earning extra money to supplement their modest (or non-existent) intern wages, pick up part-time restaurant jobs! I’ve worked in restaurants for the past 15 years. I have not had to ask my parents or friends for a loan – though I have had to ask my restaurant managers for an extra shift, sometimes “just in case.” My experience would have simply been impossible if not for the flexibility and good pay that I make as a tipped employee in Washington, D.C. You may not know it, but students like me who take on the financial burden of education are about to get left behind due to an initiative on the ballot in DC this June. The “District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017” or Initiative 77, proposes to increase the tipped minimum wage to $15/ hr, which would eliminate the tip credit.

At first glance, you might think that this sound like a good idea.

You should know that tipped wage employees in DC make between $20-40/ hour currently – so this would be a devastating pay cut. You should also know that tipped workers already, by law, must make the minimum wage of $15/ hour with tips or the restaurant must make up the difference. This system is not broken – no tipped employee in DC makes less than minimum wage; most make far more. Looking back, and I say this with complete certainty, I would not have been able to complete my education at American University with a pay of $15/ hour and no tips.

Working for tips has allowed me to pay for my undergraduate degree, Master’s degree and additional specialized education courses – all in cash, all while living in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. I am completely debt free, all because I was able to coordinate my working schedule around my school schedule and make enough money to financially support myself on a day to day basis. The ability to make a good wage and the flexibility to work as my lifestyle demands was true empowerment for me as a student. You may wonder why the tipped system is in danger of being eliminated in DC.

Here’s the background – an organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) is on a nationwide campaign to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tipped credit at chains like Denny’s, for example. What they had not taken into account is that each jurisdiction is different. Here in DC, 96% of the 2,000 restaurants are independently owned and operated, which means that only 4- yes 4 total- are chains. Ours is a very different landscape than many cities.

Should the “District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017,” or Initiative 77, pass with the vote on June 19, DC restaurant workers, including students, may be faced with a harsh reality that will not only lower their earnings, but also has the potential to lessen or eliminate part-time positions. If you believe that hard work and dedication should be rewarded, I urge you to vote NO on Initiative 77 on June 19, which will ultimately allow your classmates the opportunity to build their success through education, and allow them to fund their college experience by keeping their well-deserved tips.


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