Mining wage

Voters to decide local minimum wage vote in DC – People’s World


WASHINGTON—On Nov. 8, voters in the District of Columbia will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on whether tipped workers (such as restaurant servers, bartenders, nail salon workers and parking lot attendants) who currently earn $5.35 per hour may have their wages increased to the current DC minimum wage of $16.10 per hour.

This is not the first time this issue has been voted on as Initiative 77 was on the June 19, 2018 ballot and would have raised the minimum wage for tipped workers to match the city’s minimum wage. It was approved by a vote of 55% in favor and 45% against with overwhelming support in all but one neighborhood citywide, with the highest support in predominantly black neighborhoods.

The Washington, DC Council voted 8 to 5 in favor of legislation to overturn Initiative 77 on October 2, 2018.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson issued the following statement regarding the repeal of Initiative 77 after voters approved it in June 2018: “The Council is constantly changing laws. And if a law is a bad law, it must be amended or repealed. It doesn’t matter if the law was passed by Congress, the voters, or us. The council sponsors of the bill to reverse planned wage increases for tipped employees under Initiative 77 were:

Voters should keep this list in mind when casting their ballots on November 8 for the races on the ballot, especially the General Council race which is one of the most competitive.

Now Initiative 82 support organizations believe there are more pro-worker members on city council and do not expect a majority vote of the electorate in favor to be overruled.

To get the workers’ perspective, we reached out to Ryan O’Leary, who is responsible for ensuring Initiative 82 achieves voting status. Ryan has lived in DC for 12 of the past 13 years and has experience as a restaurant server in DC and elsewhere. (This interview is edited for clarity and length).

PW: Do you think the pandemic has had an impact on the adherence to this measure by restaurant workers?

Ryan O’Leary: COVID has changed things. I worked at Hamilton, owned by Clyde’s and was the second most profitable restaurant in DC. I was fired along with everyone else – no severance, no health benefits. Found out that busses and dishwashers, many of whom were immigrants, were told by management when they asked that they weren’t eligible for unemployment compensation because of their unemployment status. ‘immigrant. Since I knew this was wrong, I contacted many of these employees and helped them through the application process.

When workers returned to work, they expected to receive a living wage, especially when they received unemployment while not working, which was often more than what they earned while working.

Restaurant workers are in a constant state of worry – not knowing from week to week what they will earn. One week can be great and another mediocre, so you don’t know if you’ll have enough to pay the rent. They still live on the margins.

Ryan O’Leary put Initiative 82 on the ballot at a DC public library on October 9 after introducing it to community members. | Carla Rosen/P.W.

Management has total control, so if you piss them off or are seen as a difficult employee, you may have shifts cut and not be able to do anything about it.

I think there has been a shift in how workers view their jobs and more are in favor of Initiative 82 than when the issue was on the ballot before. Additionally, DC has moved more to the center left than it did a few years ago and especially with young people moving in that direction who make up the largest pool of restaurant workers.

Besides wages, are there other working conditions that restaurant workers are concerned about?

The restaurant industry has the highest rate of sexual harassment of any industry in the country. An indirect benefit of passing the tipped worker legislation is that in places where it has already been passed, sexual harassment is half of what it is elsewhere. While there are a lot of serious working conditions that need to be addressed, the first and most important is wages.

There are, as we have discussed, some unique aspects of being a tip worker. Do you see this as a labor issue?

IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) said that restaurant workers, prison workers and sex workers are the most difficult to organize. Interesting that restaurant workers are included here. There is no protection against an employer who fires you.

What other information do you think is important for people to know about Initiative 82 and how can people help in the final days before the election?

In places where similar laws have been passed there has not been much (if any) increase in menu prices and I know friends of mine who were opposed to this legislation in the past who have moved in Los Angeles and found that people continue to tip, which had been their fear. There is no evidence that the scary things announced by the National Restaurant Association will happen.

The Metro DC Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) approved and agreed to knock on 15,000 doors; Unite Here approved. (According to the DC Campaign to Build a Better Restaurant Industry website, here are some of the organizations that have endorsed: Claudia Jones School for Political Education; Jews United For Justice; Coalition of Labor Union Women, Metro DC Chapter; Communist Party USA, District of Columbia Club; Democratic Socialists of America; Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance; One Fair Wage; SEIU 1199; National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Consumers League). If you can work with your union, you should and the Democratic Socialists of America in Metro DC are canvassing every weekend. You can also donate to the campaign.

You can find more information here on how to donate and volunteer:


Carla Rosen