By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
On June 19 Washingtonian voters will get to exercise their civic duties by voting on leaders and issues affecting the city, such as the battle surrounding Initiative 77.
While people have seen the “Save Our Tips” and various signs against Initiative 77 in restaurants, some Washingtonians have admitted they’re pretty unclear and torn about the measure- which proposes an elimination of the tipped minimum wage in the District (now $3.33 and rising to $3.89 on July 1) and a gradual creation of a universal wage for everyone by 2026.
Bartenders, waiters and bar-backs argue that their tips will decrease and ultimately disappear.
Busboys and Poets founder, Andy Shallal, took to Facebook on Sunday to share his thoughts on Initiative 77.
Shallal said he believes Initiative 77 will likely pass and that it would not be the “end of the world,” but that District leaders need to revisit the tipping system in general.
“However, I do believe that the City Council needs to convene a roundtable immediately, post June 19 (no matter the outcome), bringing together labor and business to find common ground toward moving away from tips as the sole source of income for restaurant tipped workers.”
The One Fair Wage campaign argues that the tipped wage minimum income is too lax and unstable as it relies on the kindness of strangers.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, the group that fought to get Initiative 77 on the ballot, argues that the two-tiered wage system, which allows for tipped workers to make less of an hourly wage than non-tipped workers, is inherently discriminatory towards people of color and encourages people to tolerate harassment for the sake of money. According to the Washingtonian, ROC United argues that places where there’s a tipped minimum wage, such as the District, are twice as likely to face sexual harassment than places without one.
“Such an initiative would bring about more fairness between the Back of the House and the Front of House wages by allowing tips to be distributed more equitably to all hourly employees,” Shallal wrote on Facebook. “Right now, it is illegal for tips to be shared by cooks, dishwashers and other non-tipped employees.
“Passing Initiative 77 would eventually change that.”
Some of the groups against Initiative 77, including the over 100 restaurants who signed a petition asking for people to vote “no” on the initiative and “Save Our Tips” from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, are arguing that the current system is not broken.
Servers and bartenders already make more than minimum wage in tips, often ranging somewhere between $20 to $40 an hour.
Also, those against the initiative do not feel that one wage for all will fix systemic issues such as discrimination and sexual harassment.
Those in the service industry contend that the initiative can ultimately damage small, independently owned businesses that are not able to compete with the larger restaurants.
In fact, restaurant owners say that the initiative would cause prices to increase.
Further they are arguing that it would stop some entrepreneurs, particularly women and people of color, from wanting to expand their businesses in the District because of the historic concerns with access to capital.
“Initiative 77 would inevitably mean a rise in labor cost and consequently an increase in operating expenses and those additional costs need to be to offset,” Shallal wrote. “Most businesses would have to increase prices slightly, readjust staffing or use more creative ways to compensate for the change. In either case, if this initiative passes, customers will have to get used to paying more.”
In general, Shallal contends the District should take a closer look at tipping culture.
“We need to… look for a more equitable way for workers to get compensated that goes beyond the whim of a diner or patron,” he said.
“This practice is not acceptable in any other industry and we in the restaurant business should not be the last holdouts.”