On the D.C. Council’s Repeal of Initiative 77

Today, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to officially repeal Initiative 77, after an initial vote on October 2. Initiative 77 would have incrementally raised the tipped minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and thereafter required employers to pay the full minimum wage to tipped workers in all industries, lifting wages for approximately 16,000 workers whom employers currently are allowed to pay as little as $3.89 an hour. The ballot measure passed in June with support from 55 percent of D.C. voters.

D.C. follows Maine in overturning the will of voters by restoring the tip credit. In 2017, Maine’s anti-worker governor, Paul LePage, led the repeal of a 2016 minimum wage referendum in which voters had approved an increase to $12 and elimination of the tipped wage by 2024. Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), issued the following statement in response:

“Voters spoke loud and clear in June when they sided with tipped workers to raise the tipped minimum wage to $15 in the District’s service industries. In all but one of the city’s wards, majorities of voters supported equal treatment for workers in restaurants, nail salons, car washes, and other service-oriented businesses. And yet the D.C. Council chose instead to listen to big money donors over its constituents, taking a dangerous track at a time that local democracy is under attack across the country.”

“Today’s repeal temporarily undoes what was a decisive step towards greater equality and shared prosperity in the District. Tipped workers in D.C. experience poverty at more than three times the rate of non-tipped workers. For Black tipped workers, that figure is more than four fold. The pressure to please clients also means that restaurant workers, in particular, experience high rates of sexual harassment. Initiative 77 would have dismantled this cruel two-tier wage system in all industries.”

“Chairman Mendelson’s repeal bill adds a few token enforcement-related measures as window dressing to what is a clear giveaway to the restaurant industry over the will of D.C. voters. Meanwhile, he ignores the shocking $9.36 gap between the tipped and full minimum wages in the District—the largest in the entire country. Study after study has shown that in cities that have adopted $15 and that are located in One Fair Wage states, like Seattle and San Francisco, businesses not only are successfully adapting but are thriving and growing along with the rest of the restaurant industry.”

“The momentum across the country for a fair day’s wage for a day’s work cannot and will not be stopped. The fight for a fairer and more just Washington, D.C., will continue so that all working people can live and thrive here.”


The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org.

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