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Restaurant Workers in D.C. Are Organizing To Overcome Corruption and Corporate Power

The Washington D.C. Council overturned a ballot measure that would help workers make ends meet. Now voters might pass it again.

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Restaurant workers in Washington D.C. could get a huge raise if voters pass a measure to end the tipped minimum wage next month. Restaurant workers ended the tipped minimum wage in Washington, D.C. four years ago via a ballot measure, but the Council overturned it after getting thousands of dollars from restaurant owners. Now, workers are trying to end the sub-minimum wage again with Initiative 82. Organizers from the campaign spoke with More Perfect Union about why ending the tipped minimum wage is a step toward a more fair and dignified life for workers in D.C. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Dia King: Why do I think they overturned it?

[News Clip]: Lawmakers in D.C. vote Tuesday on whether or not they’ll overturn Initiative 77. The voter approved measure increases the minimum wage for tipped workers.

[News Clip]: The D.C. Council is primed to undo a ballot measure passed only three weeks ago.

Dia: Because it wasn’t in the best interest of the corporations and the restaurant owners.

In 2018, D.C. voters raised the tipped minimum wage by passing Initiative 77. The D.C. Council quickly repealed it.

Brighid Milan: Last time, the voters were very clear about raising the minimum wage. And through the lobbying efforts of restaurants and corporations, the will of the voters was overturned. So please don’t do that again.

Now, organizers got it back on the ballot with Initiative 82.

Timothy Linaberry: Prop 82 is a reincarnation of Initiative 77.

Ifeoma Ezimako: Prop 82 will raise the minimum wage for temp workers while keeping their tips.

Dia: I have worked in the service industry mostly all of my life.

Brighid: I’ve been a tipped worker since 2014, so about eight years.

Dia: I was valet for like about six years.

Ifeoma: I was barbacking, hosting, serving.

Timothy: I have been a hospitality professional for almost 20 years now.

Ifeoma: As a tipped worker you receive a base pay which can be below minimum wage.

Brighid: In most places it is a legal requirement that if the difference isn’t met, you are supposed to make the regular minimum wage, but there’s not much enforcement on that.

Timothy: No one should have to work with the uncertainty of whether or not they are going to get paid.

Dia: For women, it’s like, I’ve heard them say, pull off your mask so I can see what you look like to give you a tip and things like that. You don’t want to have to subjugate yourself or not give the best service you can give just because you’re hungry for a tip.

Brighid: Everyone deserves a fair wage, first of all. Tipped workers in particular can’t necessarily rely on a steady income because tips are not necessarily steady.

Ifeoma: If you come in on a Tuesday, I mean some people party on a Tuesday, but not as much as Saturday. Put yourself in a tip worker’s shoes. Could you survive off of $2.50 an hour and rely on the drunk guy in front of you to pay your rent?

The restaurant industry spent hundreds of thousands on lawsuits trying to keep Initiative 82 off the ballot. All were dismissed.

Ifeoma: The opposition… There are false rumors being spread that, oh, this will take away tips or oh, there won’t be enough jobs, people won’t be able to pay, and those are all false because we have high road restaurants that already pay their workers $15 plus tips on top and they’ve seen more sales come in. When people are paid more, people want to work.

Dia: I believe that the powers that be, the corporations and the business owners are spinning a narrative that if you give people more money, then that’s not good. I don’t know where that comes from, but giving people more money is not a bad thing to me.

Brighid: When Initiative 77 was proposed, which was basically the same, had the same goal as [Initiative] 82 to raise the tipped minimum wage, I was serving at the time as well, and I, as well as most people I knew working in the industry were opposed to it. I realized that I had literally just been convinced by people running restaurants who obviously are disincentivized to pay me more.

Brighid: I realized that it was them convincing me I didn’t deserve this raise. The tide is turning in favor of workers. And so while this would be historic, I think it would be another step in a series of steps that are leading us to a place where workers have more power.

Dia: Vote yes on Prop 82—I need to do it with that bullhorn. I’ll probably only do it to vote yes on Prop 82.

Dia [on bullhorn]: Vote yes on Prop 82.

Brighid: Give me a raise.
Dia [on bullhorn]: 80- 80- 82. Vote yes. Yes.

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