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What D.C.’s Initiative 77 Means for Restaurant Workers Around the Country

Last week, voters in the nation’s capital voted for a ballot initiative that will increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Initiative 77 effectively raises the bar for restaurant owners to pay their wait staff and other tipped employees a fair, living wage as the District slowly raises its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Washington D.C. will join Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington in rejecting a tipped wage. This initiative could have far-reaching effects for tipped workers across the country if it becomes law.

Changing the tipping culture

For those of you that have been to Europe, you know that leaving someone a big tip at a restaurant is a sure fire way to exclaim that you’re a tourist.

In the U.S., tipping is a part of the restaurant experience. But, that’s because many restaurant workers are paid significantly less than actual minimum wage.

Initiative 77 is the first step towards changing that paradigm in D.C. It slowly phases out the ‘tipped wage’ and forces restaurant employers to raise the hourly rate of pay of tipped staff to meet the state’s minimum wage of $12.50 per hour.

Remember, there is no law requiring restaurant patrons to leave a 20 percent tip on their meal bill. It’s just a matter of etiquette. There are studies that show that tipping is becoming a lost art, and some who voted against Initiative 77 argue that it will accelerate the extinction of tipping altogether. In fact, Initiative 77 makes it easier for tipped employees to survive as tipping itself declines.

An option other than arbitration

We recently discussed how the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis dealt a major blow to restaurant workers by eliminating class action lawsuits against employers to settle arbitration claims. Initiative 77 creates an end around this issue.

By creating a law that helps tipped employees avoid unlivable wages, employees may not have to fight their wage cases alone.

Instead, local labor law bureaucracies can help employees fight for their wage related claims. This gives employees another resourceful avenue to pursue their claims against employers rather than emptying their savings to retain a lawyer.

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