(Updated 04/29/2016) While Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed minimum wage increase from $10.50 to $15 continues to be hotly debated, Washington, D.C. residents recently asked for clarity on the measure’s impact on those who work for tips.
Under Bowser’s minimum wage increase, tipped workers would see a wage hike up to $7.50 by 2022. Currently, tipped workers are paid $2.77 an hour by their employers, and use what they make in tips to cover the difference from the prevailing minimum wage. If they fall short of the minimum wage with their tips, employers are responsible for taking up the slack.
“We have to make economic opportunity mean something,” Bowser said at D.C.’s “Fight for $15” rally April 19. The D.C. rally, one of a series of similar rallies which took place in more than 100 cities across the country, was announced during Bowser’s 2016 State of the District address. In that speech, the mayor detailed efforts to reach a $15 hourly minimum by 2020.
“An hourly minimum wage of $11.50 will only stretch so far,” Bowser said. “In a city as prosperous as ours, we can level the playing field and we can make sure our residents are paid a good wage so fewer families are forced to leave.”
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington warned against the decision almost as soon as it was announced, calling the resolution to increase the wage for tipped workers to $7.50 a “worrisome game changer” that would harm restaurant workers.
“The financial increase would cause increased strain on current employees resulting in declining service for the customers while they are forced to pay higher prices for their meal,” Kathy Hollinger, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Many restaurants have explored abolishing the tip system, resulting in servers earning less than before, or if the restaurant does not abolish the tip system, the disparity in pay scale dramatically rises between front of house and back of house employees.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.’s $2.77 is on the low end of the tipped wage scale with a number of states having tipped-wage levels well above that. Recently in California, state legislators completely abolished tipped wages, passing the institution of a $15 minimum hourly wage for all workers, including those in restaurants, by 2022.
Tipped workers are predominantly women (66.6 percent) and minorities, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center.