Press Release: Campaign Reaches Signature Milestone

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: February 3, 2022

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878,
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org
Adam Eidinger, 202-744-2671,
Adam@BetterRestaurantsDC.org

Initiative 82 Organizers Have Gathered Enough Signatures to Qualify for the DC Primary Election Ballot

Pandemic, Winter Weather Didn’t Deter Organizers of the One Fair Wage Movement
D.C.’s Voters Will Weigh in for Second Time on the Elimination of the Archaic Tip Credit

WASHINGTON, DC — Organizers of Ballot Initiative 82, formally known as “The Tipped Credit Elimination Act,” which will gradually increase the base wage for tipped workers and make it the same as non-tipped workers by 2027, have reached the milestone of collecting 5% of the signatures of registered District of Columbia voters. With over 26,205 “valid” signatures, the DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry (DCCBBRI) will focus the remaining three weeks of signature collection on ensuring the ballot initiative will withstand any potential challenge and be placed on the June 21 primary election ballot.

“Ballot Initiative 82 gives voters a powerful tool to help the restaurant industry fix its labor crisis and give low wage tipped workers a fair wage with tips on top,” said Ryan O’Leary, a ten year D.C. restaurant worker who filed Ballot Initiative 82 with the DC Board of Elections (DCBOE) in June 2021. O’Leary, who is an organizer with the non-profit organization One Fair Wage, adds, “For the sake of tipped workers in D.C., and democracy, we were not deterred by the coronavirus pandemic nor winter weather from collecting signatures from voters in all 8 wards. As of today, we have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but we will continue collecting a large surplus before submitting them to the DCBOE on Tuesday, February 22nd for certification.”

“The frustration surrounding the repeal of Ballot Initiative 77 was heard by a lot of petition circulators. Voters sympathized with us circulating petitions in a deadly pandemic and colder than normal winter as a matter of necessity due to the D.C. Council’s inaction on the unfair and discriminatory subminimum tipped wage. Today’s milestone is because of tremendous concern of D.C. voters who still feel insulted by the D.C. Council for repealing Ballot Initiative 77 immediately after it was passed into law by voters,” said Adam Eidinger, treasurer of DCCBBRI, as well as the Campaign to Decriminalize Nature D.C., which passed Initiative 81 in November 2020 by 76% of the vote.

“People really recall how a voter approved raise for the lowest paid workers in D.C. was pilfered by arrogance and misinformation in 2018, but today, an enthusiastic electorate is looking to course correct for workers who suffered the most during the pandemic. Democracy is alive in local D.C. and with awareness rising, we are hopeful for even greater voter support this time for eliminating the archaic tip credit,” says Eidinger.

Tipped workers in D.C. make a base wage of $5.05 per hour paid by employers, who are allowed to credit the first $10.15 in tips per hour to satisfy their responsibility to pay tipped workers D.C.’s minimum wage of $15.20 per hour over pay period. When you leave a tip at a restaurant in D.C., the tip credit essentially allows the business owner to credit your tip against the wages they are required to pay their tipped workers. The campaign is not against tipping, rather the campaign is against the unethical practice of using tips to pay workers less than they deserve.

“We are pro-tips, but in the COVID era, we believe tipped workers are accepting work that puts them in harm’s way and deserve a reasonable expectation of actual wages that are not subject to the whims and biases of customers. The campaign’s slogan is “Fair wage, with tips on top!,” says Kris Furnish, a former tipped worker and field director for DCCBBRI.

The campaign developed a COVID era election strategy to succeed in getting Initiative 82 on the primary ballot. In December, seeking to muster signatures from hard to reach voters, DCCBBRI mailed over 13,000 D.C. voters the petition so they could sign in the comfort and safety of their homes. The number of these signatures continues to grow daily with voters signing these petitions and mailing them back with postage paid for by the campaign.

“We are aware that many voters have yet to mail back their petition and in order for these signatures to be counted, we want voters to have the most time possible to return their petitions back to the Campaign,” says Furnish, who helped spearhead the campaign’s mailing. The current mail collection rate already exceeds 12%, more than twice the rate achieved by a sign-by-mail effort in 2020 with Initiative 81.

The sign-by-mail strategy to gather signatures was first deployed successfully in D.C. during the 2020 election cycle and helped secure the passage of Initiative 81, which shifted enforcement of laws concerning natural plant medicines to become among the Metropolitan Police Department’s lowest law enforcement priorities. DCCBBRI utilized in-person petition circulation for most of the signatures, including outside of free covid testing sites at public libraries and fire stations, but also near traditional locations like farmers markets, grocery stores, Metro stations, and at busy street corners, with collectors wearing masks and using other COVID protection measurers, making the feat of collecting thousands of signatures all the more difficult.

Ballot initiatives are afforded 180 days to collect the signatures of 5% of the registered voters in D.C. provided that they also collect the 5% in 5 of the 8 wards. With the Initiative 82 petition being issued on October 13, 2021, the campaign technically has until Friday, April 8 to finish collecting signatures. But in order to qualify for the June 21 primary election ballot, the campaign is required to submit them to the DCBOE by Tuesday, February 22.

D.C. law requires the DCBOE to utilize the official voter registration count published 30 days prior to the submission of the petitions and the official total published on December 31, 2021, states there are currently 524,088 registered voters. The campaign checks every petition against the most recent DCBOE voter roll, which contains the names and addresses of every registered voter in the District of Columbia. For every voter whose name and address match what is written on the petition and in the voter roll, the campaign considers the voter’s signature “valid.” Currently, the campaign has collected over 26,205 signatures that match the voter’s information on the voter roll and are considered by the campaign to be “valid.”. In case there were any mistakes, the campaign will collect as many extra signatures as possible in the final weeks before the deadline.

“Even though D.C. has ‘closed primaries,’ where only voters registered with a political party can vote for their party’s candidate, every registered voter will be able to vote on Initiative 82 because it is non-partisan,” says Nikolas Schiller, a former tipped worker and Communications Lead, who trained over 175 petition circulators over Zoom. With over 400,000 registered Democrats, DCBBRI feels that the contested primary ballot is a better reflection of D.C.’s diverse electorate.

“There are 86,861 D.C. voters who are not registered with a political party who will be able to show up to vote in June and their ballot will consist of only the yes or no question of Ballot Initiative 82,” adds Schiller. “We believe a majority of DC voters will cast a YES vote because they agree that tipped workers deserved a pay raise four years ago.”

DCCBBRI is a political campaign registered with the DC Office of Campaign Finance and is organized by current and former tipped workers in the group One Fair Wage. The campaign received major support from the Open Society Foundation, fair trade and organic body care brand Dr. Bronner’s, as well as over one thousand concerned D.C. citizens who helped collect signatures and believe in eliminating the archaic tip credit in the nation’s capital.

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Press Release: 32BJ SIEU Endorses One Fair Wage Campaign in D.C. to Support Tipped Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 26, 2022
CONTACT: Julie Karant, 646-584-9001, jkarant@seiu32bj.org

Nation’s Largest Property Service Workers Union Endorses One Fair Wage Campaign in D.C. to Support Tipped Workers

Washington, D.C. – The following statement is attributable to Jaime Contreras, Executive Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, which represents over 175,000 members in 11 states, including over 20,000 in the D.C. area and Baltimore, MD, as the largest property service workers union in the country:

“32BJ’s property service workers, who helped lead the Fight for $15 campaign across the nation, proudly endorse the One Fair Wage campaign to ensure that D.C. restaurant workers aren’t forced to rely on tips to make up the difference for unlivable poverty wages. These unsustainable conditions drove thousands of working men and women out of the industry, after many got sick and even died keeping our economy alive during the pandemic. They were confronted with a perfect storm of few if any customers to provide tips, many who may not even know how little tipped workers earn during a time of economic uncertainty.
“32BJ members know firsthand that tipped workers can’t support themselves much less a family. Before enactment of a tipped minimum wage at National and Dulles Airports, many of 32BJ’s tipped wheelchair agents there experienced homelessness, had to skip meals and slept in the airport because they couldn’t afford rent or transportation. Workers even reported being discharged for mere allegations of soliciting tips, a practice that is forbidden for wheelchair agents.

“While every other contractor pays wheelchair agents the airport’s tipped minimum wage – the Huntleigh Corporation is the sole outlier not paying this wage. As a consequence, Huntleigh relies on disabled passenger tips to make up the difference in wages they aren’t paying workers.

“As 32BJ continues to fight to ensure the tipped minimum wage is paid to 350 Huntleigh workers at DCA and Dulles, we support the fight for tipped workers in the District.”


Click here to download a PDF of this press release

Press Release: District of Columbia Tipped Workers Close in on Hike in Base Pay

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: January 21, 2022

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878,
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org
Adam Eidinger, 202-744-2671,
adam@mintwood.com

District of Columbia Tipped Workers Close in on Hike in Base Pay

Astonishing Voter Response to Signature Drive Boosts Initiative 82 Toward Success
DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry Vows to Beat Feb. 22 Deadline

WASHINGTON, DC – Backers of a District of Columbia ballot initiative, which would gradually increase the base wage for tipped workers and make it the same as non-tipped workers by 2027, announced it has begun the final push to collect enough signatures to get Initiative 82 on the primary ballot with at least 23,000 valid signatures collected of the estimated 23,000 to 26,000 needed.

“Initiative 82 gives the D.C. community a powerful tool to help low wage tipped workers who want higher pay with tips on top,” said Ryan O’Leary, who filed Initiative 82, with the DC Board of Elections in June 2021. “For the sake and livelihood of tipped workers in D.C., and democracy, we cannot afford to be deterred by COVID or winter weather. We will get the collection of signatures done in the coming few weeks using 100 percent volunteers.”

The D.C. Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry (DCCBBRI) is a political campaign organized by current and former tipped workers in the group One Fair Wage with major support from the Open Society Foundation, fair trade and organic body care brand Dr. Bronner’s, as well as over one thousand concerned DC citizens who believe in eliminating the archaic tip credit in D.C.

The campaign developed a COVID-era election strategy to position itself to succeed in getting Initiative 82 on the ballot utilizing in-person collection of most signatures, including outside of free covid testing sites at public libraries and fire stations.

Seeking to muster signatures from hard to reach voters in December, DCCBBRI mailed over 13,000 D.C. voters petitions for gathering signatures required to get Initiative 82 on the ballot. Still unfolding is the total number of voters signing the petitions and mailing them back with postage paid for by the campaign. Early mail returns of signed petitions are exceeding the return rate achieved in 2020 with Initiative 81 which was 5.2 percent.

For the final stage, the campaign will be deploying unpaid, volunteer petition circulators on DC streets in targeted locations to gather enough signatures by the Feb. 22 deadline to ensure Initiative 82 gets on the primary ballot in D.C. The primary is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21.

“Although optimistic, the campaign is not taking anything for granted,” said Adam Eidinger, treasurer of the D.C. Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry as well as the Campaign to Decriminalize Nature D.C., which successfully passed Initiative 81 in November 2020. “We are closing in on our goal of 27,000 validated signatures, which we believe will exceed the 5 percent of active D.C. voters required by law. There is currently some confusion within the campaign as to what the final number of signatures will be and inquiries have been made to the DC Board of Elections. We are collecting more signatures to have a cushion to exceed higher estimates of the final number needed.”

The sign-by-mail tactic to gather ballot signatures was first deployed successfully in D.C. in the 2020 election with the passage of Initiative 81 led by the Campaign to Decriminalize Nature D.C. (which shifted enforcement of laws against natural plant medicines to the lowest D.C. law enforcement priority).

“This election cycle the campaign to raise the base wage for tipped workers has adopted Covid era tactics,’” says Communications and Training Lead Nikolas Schiller. “Fortunately, there was an overlap of activists and veteran tipped workers in both campaigns, making the direct mail tactic to getting signatures more productive due to the advantage of knowing likely signers from the sign-by-mail petitions gathered in 2020.”

Tipped workers in D.C. make a base wage of $5.05 per hour paid by employers, who are allowed to credit the first $10.15 in tips per hour to satisfy their responsibility to pay tipped workers DC’s minimum wage of $15.20 per hour over a two week pay period. So, when you leave a tip, the business owner essentially credits your tip against the amount they are required to pay their tipped workers and they are using the average per hour rate of tips made over two weeks making it possible to use Saturday night tips to pay a tipped worker on a slow Tuesday.

“In the COVID era we believe tipped workers are accepting work that puts them in harm’s way and thus deserve a reasonable expectation of actual wages that are not subject to the latest business crash or boom, but rather pay people who come to work. The campaign’s slogan is “Fair wage, with tips on top!,” says Kris Furnish, field director for DCCBBRI.

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Press Release: DC Board of Elections Issues Circulating Petitions for Ballot Initiative 82

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Wednesday October 13, 2021

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org

DC Board of Elections Issues Circulating Petitions for Ballot Initiative 82

Campaign has 132 Days to Collect Approximately 26,000 Valid Signatures from DC Voters to Gain Access to the June 2022 Primary Ballot

*** MEDIA AVAILABILITY ***  Signature Collection Kicks Off Today at McPherson Square and Adams Morgan Plaza

WASHINGTON, DC – Today during the October meeting of the DC Board of Elections (DCBOE), the DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry (DCCBBRI) adopted the official circulating petition for the District of Columbia Tip Credit Elimination Act of 2021, known as ballot initiative 82. The adoption of the circulating petition starts the official ballot access clock, where the campaign has 132 days to collect the names, addresses, and signatures of 5% of the registered voters in 5 of the 8 wards of the District of Columbia. As of August 31, there are currently 517,672 registered voters in the District of Columbia, which means DCCBBRI will need to collect at least 25,884 signatures to achieve ballot access. While DCCBBRI is permitted to utilize 180 days for petition circulation, in order to place the ballot initiative before Primary election day voters, the Campaign will need to submit the required number of signatures by Tuesday, February 22, 2022.

“We are excited to hit the streets and talk with voters about why the ‘Tip Credit’ needs to be eliminated,” says Ryan O’Leary, the proposer of ballot initiative 82 and former tipped worker. “Tips are a thank you from customers and should not be counted towards the wages an employer owes its employees. We can build a better restaurant industry by changing how workers are compensated.”

The “Tip Credit” is an archaic wage system that allows employers to pay employees a sub-minimum wage, currently $5.05, and credits the first $10.15 of tips per hour towards the minimum wage of $15.20 per hour. Over the course of a pay period, if an employee makes less than $15.20 per hour after tips, then the employer is required to credit the employee the difference to ensure the employee makes at least $15.20 per hour.

Ballot measure number 82 will eliminate the “Tip Credit” by gradually raising the sub-minimum wage to $15.20 an hour. By 2027, the sub-minimum wage in the District of Columbia will be eliminated, along with the tip credit, and tipped workers will receive DC’s full minimum wage with tips on top. The measure does not impact tipping or tip sharing across a business that pays the full minimum wage, which is already the law in Washington, DC.

“The elimination of the ‘Tip Credit’ will eventually result in an hourly pay raise of $10.15. Likely more, because DC’s current minimum wage is pegged to inflation, so by 2027, the minimum wage will be higher and so will the take home pay of thousands of tipped workers,” Adam Eidinger, former restaurant worker and DCCBBRI treasurer.

The “Tip Credit” is also not very transparent for tipped workers because it is averaged out over a pay period. This allows for wage theft, discrimination, and puts workers’ livelihoods in the hands of the customer. Worse, during the pandemic, tipped workers saw less unemployment benefits because their income was often tied to unclaimed cash tips. Since union membership in the service sector is very low, public input on the way the service industry operates is needed to build a better and more just service industry.

The new ballot initiative is being proposed by a restaurant worker who lost their job during the pandemic and is in partnership with experienced DC ballot initiative activists who supported previous efforts to raise DC’s minimum wage, including Initiatives 76 and 77.

The initiative text and more information on the new campaign can be found online at BetterRestaurantsDC.org

*** MEDIA AVAILABILITY ***
Initiative 82 Petition Kick Off

Volunteers from the DC Committee to Build A Better Restaurant Industry will be kicking off the signature collection effort at two locations today. From 12pm to 1:30pm, volunteers will be at McPherson Square (near 15th & Eye Streets NW) supporting One Fair Wage Action’s nationwide voter rally. In the evening, from 5pm to 7pm, volunteers will be circulating petitions in the Adams Morgan Plaza (corner of 18th & Columbia NW). The proposer of the ballot initiative as well as members of the Campaign will be available for interviews at both locations.

WHO: Members of the DC Committee to Build A Better Restaurant Industry and volunteers
WHAT: Initiative 82 Petition Kickoff
WHERE: McPherson Square (near 15th & Eye Streets NW)
Adams Morgan Plaza (corner of 18th & Columbia NW)
WHEN: 12pm to 1:30pm (McPherson Square)
5pm to 7pm (Adams Morgan Plaza)
WHY: The DC Committee to Build A Better Restaurant Industry believes that eliminating the archaic ‘Tip Credit’ will improve the lives of thousands of tipped workers and in order for DC voters to have their say on this ballot measure the Campaign needs to collect at least 25,884 signatures from registered voters of the District of Columbia.

Initiative 82 Petition Kick Off!

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Press Release: DC Board of Elections Concludes New Voter Initiative is Proper Subject Matter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Thursday, August 26, 2021

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org

DC Board of Elections Concludes New Voter Initiative is Proper Subject Matter

Today’s Vote Allows Voter Initiative to Move Toward Signature Collection Phase
Campaign Aims to Place Voter Initiative on June 2022 Primary Ballot

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry is pleased to announce that during the monthly meeting of the DC Board of Elections (DCBOE), the new voter initiative, the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022,” was deemed to be proper subject matter, and will be permitted to go forward with the signature collection phase of the campaign this fall.

“We are pleased that the DCBOE agreed with Attorney General Karl Racine and General Counsel Nicole Streeter that our initiative is proper subject matter and voters of the District of Columbia will have the opportunity to weigh in on this important issue,” says Aniyah Vines, Chairwoman of the committee. “Tipped workers deserve a full wage, not one that is subsidized by the whims of customers, and this initiative will go a long way in fixing this injustice.”

“DC election law requires that after a ballot initiative is submitted to the DC Board of Elections their General Counsel must seek the opinions of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the General Counsel of the Council of District of Columbia concerning whether the initiative is proper subject matter before it can move forward to the signature collection phase,” says attorney Joseph Sandler, whose firm, Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, drafted the initiative on behalf of former restaurant workers leading the effort.

Ballot initiatives are prohibited from violating the DC Human Rights Act, amending the DC Home Rule Charter, conflicting with the U.S. Constitution, appropriating funds, negating or limiting budgetary acts of the DC Council, and must be properly filed with the DCBOE and the DC Office of Campaign Finance. Although there have been over 81 voter initiatives submitted to the DCBOE since 1979, most were not deemed to be proper subject matter and were withdrawn or unable to proceed.

“Ballot initiatives cannot legislate discrimination. But the current wage law, passed by the DC Council and vocally supported by the Mayor, is discriminatory. Customers discriminate against tipped workers every single day and this initiative will fix this injustice by ensuring their wages are not subject biases,” says initiative proposer and former tipped worker Ryan O’Leary. “Tips are supposed to be a ‘thank you’ for good service and should have never been allowed to count towards a worker’s wages. We can build a better restaurant industry by changing how workers are compensated.”

Now that the initiative has been deemed proper subject matter, the DCBOE will prepare the official petition for circulation and upon issuance the campaign will have 180 days to collect approximately 5% or 26,000 signatures from registered DC voters in order to place the measure on the June 2022 Primary Election ballot. If approved by 50% or more of voters, the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022” would have to withstand Congressional review and possible DC Council amendments before being implemented. As proposed, tipped workers would see their first pay raise of $1 in January 2023 and $2 annually until 2027, when the minimum wage will be at least $15.20 an hour (indexed to inflation), plus tips on top. The measure does not impact tipping or tip sharing across a business that pays the full minimum wage which is already the law in Washington, DC.

If approved by DC voters in June 2022, the new ballot initiative would gradually phase out the sub-minimum base wage tipped workers currently receive and raise it to the same minimum wage non-tipped workers get, with tips on top. As of July 1st, the current sub-minimum wage in DC is $5.05 an hour and if a tipped worker does not make the prevailing minimum wage of $15.20 an hour, the employer is supposed to make up the difference. However, this system is not transparent and allows for wage theft, discrimination, and puts workers’ livelihoods in the hands of the customer. Worse, during the pandemic, tipped workers saw less unemployment benefits because their income was often tied to unclaimed cash tips. Since union membership in the service sector is very low, public input on the way the service industry operates is needed to build a better and more just for the majority of service workplace.

The new ballot initiative is being proposed by a restaurant worker who lost their job during the pandemic and is in partnership with experienced DC ballot initiative activists who supported previous efforts to raise DC’s minimum wage, including Initiatives 76 and 77.

QUOTES FROM TIPPED WORKERS
DC tipped workers testified at the hearing in support of the ballot measure to end the subminimum wage for tipped workers. In their comments, they raised the fact that the subminimum wage for tipped workers has subjected them to illegal discrimination, in addition to economic instability. They articulated that with the pandemic, conditions worsened, with tips decreasing while health risks, hostility and sexual harassment increasing — all leading to thousands of workers leaving the industry and reporting that they do not want to return to work in restaurants without a livable wage with tips on top.

“The subminimum wage is a legacy of slavery and has always been unjust, but the pandemic made a bad situation worse— tips went down, and health risks and harassment went up. And it’s been even worse for our city’s most vulnerable who work in the service industry.” – Dia King, Ward 7

“This ballot measure is critical, and can do much to help alleviate the stress of working in tipped labor environments. There is no labor shortage, there is a shortage of wages and it’s time to finally correct that.” Julian Johnson, Ward 1

The initiative text and more information on the new campaign can be found online at BetterRestaurantsDC.org

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+ Click here to download a PDF of the opinion from the Office of the Attorney General
+ Click here to download a PDF of the opinion from the General Counsel of the Council of the District of Columbia

Press Release: Attorney General Karl Racine and the General Counsel of the DC Council Agree: New Voter Initiative Can Go Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Tuesday, July 20, 2021

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org

Attorney General Karl Racine and the General Counsel of the DC Council Agree: New Voter Initiative Can Go Forward

DC Board of Elections Public Hearing Postponed to August 26

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry (DCCBRI) is pleased to announce it received supportive legal opinions concerning the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022,” which should ease the initiative  forward to the signature gathering phase this fall after a DC Board of Elections (DCBOE) public hearing on Thursday, August 26, 2021. The opinions can be read at BetterRestaurantsDC.org.

“DC election law requires that after a ballot initiative is submitted to the DC Board of Elections their General Counsel must seek the opinions of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the General Counsel of the Council of District of Columbia concerning whether the initiative is proper subject matter before it can move forward to the signature collection phase,” says attorney Joseph Sandler, whose firm, Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, drafted the initiative on behalf of former restaurant workers leading the effort.

Ballot initiatives are prohibited from amending the DC Home Rule Charter, conflicting with the U.S. Constitution, violate the DC Human Rights Act, appropriate funds, negate or limit a budgetary act of the DC Council, and must be properly filed with the DCBOE and the DC Office of Campaign Finance. Although there have been over 81 voter initiatives submitted to the DCBOE since 1979, most were not deemed to be proper subject matter and were unable to proceed.

“We are pleased that Attorney General Karl Racine and General Counsel Nicole Streeter agreed that our initiative is proper subject matter and voters of the District of Columbia will have the opportunity to weigh in again on this important issue at the upcoming public hearing,” says Aniyah Vines, Chairwoman of the committee. “Tipped workers deserve a full wage, not one that is subsidized by the whims of customers, and this initiative will go a long way in fixing this injustice.”

Now that the opinions have been issued, the next step for the new initiative is for the DCBOE to hold the public hearing, which will now take place on Thursday, August 26. Originally scheduled for August 4th, the public hearing has been moved to the last Thursday in August. The public is encouraged to sign up to testify and provide their testimony on why the initiative should go forward.

After the initiative is deemed proper subject matter at the hearing by a vote of the 3-member Board of Elections, the DCBOE will prepare the official petition for circulation and upon issuance the campaign will have 180 days to collect approximately 5% or 26,000 signatures from registered DC voters in order to place the measure on the June 2022 Primary Election ballot. If approved by 50% or more of voters, the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022” would have to withstand Congressional review and possible DC Council amendments before being implemented. As proposed, tipped workers would see their first pay raise of $1 in January 2023 and $2 annually until 2027, when the minimum wage will be at least $15.20 an hour (indexed to inflation), plus tips on top. The measure does not impact tipping or tip sharing across a business that pays the full minimum wage which is already the law in Washington, DC.

If approved by DC voters in 2022, the new ballot initiative would gradually phase out the sub-minimum base wage tipped workers currently receive and raise it to the same minimum wage non-tipped workers get, with tips on top.  As of July 1st, the current sub-minimum wage in DC is $5.05 an hour and if a tipped worker does not make the prevailing minimum wage of $15.20 an hour, the employer is supposed to make up the difference. However, this system is not transparent and allows for wage theft, discrimination, and puts workers’ livelihoods in the hands of the customer. Worse, during the pandemic, tipped workers saw less unemployment benefits because their income was often tied to unclaimed cash tips. Since union membership in the service sector is very low, public input on the way the service industry operates is needed to build a better and more just for the majority of service workplace.

The new ballot initiative is being proposed by a restaurant worker who lost their job during the pandemic and is in partnership with experienced DC ballot initiative activists who supported previous efforts to raise DC’s minimum wage, including Initiatives 76 and 77.

The initiative text and more information on the new campaign can be found online at BetterRestaurantsDC.org

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Click here to download a PDF of this press release


+ Click here to download a PDF of the opinion from the Office of the Attorney General
+ Click here to download a PDF of the opinion from the General Counsel of the Council of the District of Columbia

Press Release: A Better Restaurant Industry is Possible!

The DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry

PRESS CONTACT: Nikolas Schiller, 202-643-3878
Press@BetterRestaurantsDC.org

A Better Restaurant Industry is Possible!

New DC Committee Forms to Build A Better Restaurant Industry by Passing Voter Initiative to Improve Wages and Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, DC – As DC’s restaurants, hotels, hair salons, and parking lots experience a post-pandemic boom, many laid off tipped service workers are not returning to their jobs because they don’t want to work for unfair wages with little job security or pay dignity. Now a group of service workers, concerned citizens, and business allies are launching the DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry with their submission of the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022” to the DC Board of Elections (DCBOE).

If approved by DC voters in 2022, the new ballot initiative would gradually phase out the sub-minimum base wage tipped workers currently receive and raise it to the same minimum wage non-tipped workers get, with tips on top. As of July 1st, the current sub-minimum wage in DC is $5.05 an hour and if a tipped worker does not make the prevailing minimum wage of $15.20 an hour, the employer is supposed to make up the difference. However, this system is not transparent and allows for wage theft, discrimination, and puts workers’ livelihoods in the hands of the customer. Worse, during the pandemic, tipped workers saw less unemployment benefits because their income was often tied to unclaimed cash tips. Since union membership in the service sector is very low, public input on the way the service industry operates is needed to build a better and more just workplace.

The new ballot initiative is being proposed by a restaurant worker who lost their job during the pandemic and is in partnership with experienced DC ballot initiative activists who supported previous efforts to raise DC’s minimum wage, including Initiatives 76 and 77.

Initiative Proposer Ryan O’Leary has been a resident of Washington, DC for 10 years and has worked in the restaurant industry as a server. “After being laid off in the wake of the pandemic, I realized I could no longer shrug off the disrespect I experienced and witnessed while working for tips,” says O’Leary, adding “I was forced to confront how precarious our positions in the service economy truly were, how disposable we are considered to be, and how unjustly we were treated by an industry with a criminally low unionization rate, rampant wage theft, and of course, the indignity of being paid a subminimum wage.”

The Chairwoman of the new DC effort to build a better restaurant industry is Howard University Senior Aniyah Vines. Her experience in the service sector motivated her to speak out recently at a rally for higher wages in Chinatown. “I had to look for a job to help pay my tuition upon arriving in Washington, DC in 2018 to receive a higher education at Howard University. I’ve engaged people who feel powerless to demand more, but in DC – with the public’s support – I believe we can restore dignity in work by paying fair wages. I know too many individuals who feel that they have no other choice but to withstand workplace harassment to hustle for tips because they desperately need the money. Our fight is for those who are not able to fight for themselves. We are fighting for essential workers to receive an essential wage, while improving the overall experience in the workplace by putting tips on top of their wages, where they belong.”

O’Leary and Vines co-lead the DC chapter of One Fair Wage, a national organization of 250,000 service workers dedicated to ending subminimum wages and making the service sector more sustainable for all. Together with RAISE, a national association of 1000 ‘high road’ restaurant owners committed to increased race and gender equity in the restaurant industry, One Fair Wage is supporting the new DC ballot measure in alignment with their work co-leading efforts to pass the federal Raise the Wage Act, which has been sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott in the House and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Senate and proposes to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and end the subminimum wage for tipped workers, workers with disabilities, and youth. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and President Biden have all publicly championed the Raise the Wage Act generally and ending the subminimum wage for tipped workers specifically, with President Biden making it a part of his Executive Order for federally contracted workers and Sen Schumer recently headlining a ‘Server for an Hour’ event in NY to underscore the need to end the subminimum wage for tipped workers.

The next step for the new initiative is for the DCBOE to consider if it is proper subject matter, which will take place within the next two months. When approved by the DCBOE for petition circulation, the campaign committee will have 180 days to collect approximately 26,000 valid signatures from DC voters by March 2022 in order to place the measure on the June 2022 Primary Election ballot. If approved by voters, the “District of Columbia Full Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers Amendment Act of 2022” would have to withstand Congressional review and possible DC Council amendments before being implemented. As proposed, tipped workers would see their first pay raise of $1 in January 2023 and $2 annually until 2027, when the minimum wage will be at least $15.20 an hour (indexed to inflation), plus tips on top.

In the fall of 2018, after being approved by a 11.48% margin (55.74% voted yes) by DC voters in the June primary election, the DC Council voted to overturn Initiative 77, which also slowly phased out the sub-minimum wage. Then, seeking to stop the DC Council from overturning the legislation, “Save Our Vote” advocates collected 35,000 signatures to allow voters to reverse the DC Council decision through a referendum. On the same day the signatures were submitted to the DCBOE to place the question on the ballot, a DC Superior Court Judge intervened and declared DCBOE mishandled the referendum. Years later, the COVID pandemic further highlighted the problems associated with the sub-minimum wage leading to this new effort, which includes outreach to DC Council members to pledge to respect the outcome of the vote.

Leaders of the new effort feel that the composition of the new DC Council and the dramatic change in support among restaurant workers and employers for a full wage for tipped workers both bode well for the successful passage and implementation of the ballot measure in 2022. “A majority of the new Council supports the ballot measure and will not vote to overturn it. But more importantly, restaurant workers have now indicated that they are no longer willing to return to work in restaurants without a full, stable wage from their employer with tips on top – meaning restaurant owners cannot fully reopen DC restaurants without raising wages, and that’s led to a lot of DC restaurant owners being more supportive of policy change to create a level playing field. Policy change is essential to ensure all boats rise together and we can enjoy the DC restaurant industry at the scale we enjoyed it pre-pandemic,” said Adam Eidinger, who is Treasurer for the new campaign committee. A recent report by the organization One Fair Wage based on 3000 surveys of restaurant workers showed that 53% are considering leaving their restaurant jobs; 76% say it’s due to low wages and tips, and 78% say they would only return to work in restaurants if given a stable, livable wage by their employer with tips on top.

The initiative text and more information on the new campaign can be found online at BetterRestaurantsDC.org

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