Dozens of DC restaurants urge customers to vote no on tipping ballot initiative

Dozens of the most popular D.C. restaurants and bars have joined forces to oppose a measure on the ballot in the District that would raise the minimum wage employers are required to pay tipped employees, arguing that could force them to do away with tips and could mean substantially less money for employees.

The group, which is united under the name and corresponding website, said most employees already make well above the minimum wage with tips, currently $12.50 in the District. It will gradually increase to $15 by 2020. They said in the rare cases minimum hourly wage isn't met, the law already requires employers to make up the difference.

But if passed, Initiative 77, which will be on the June 19 primary ballot, requires employers to meet the $12.50 wage out of their own budgets. Many mom-and-pop establishments said the financial burden could mean the cost is passed along to customers or in the most extreme cases, some places would close.

"I don't know a single person in the industry - server, bartender or owner - that thinks this is a good idea," said Justin Logan, owner of the Ruta del Vino wine bar in Petworth. "It's really a solution in search of a problem. All of our guys make well over the minimum wage. They will continue to do so after the minimum wage goes up,"

"If this bill passes, it's really just not going to work out in our favor because we are going to be making less money, we are going to have to move out to other places that we generally were not going to have to live in just to make ends meet," said Blair Ard, who tends bar and serves at the restaurant and bar.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which lobbied to get the initiative on the ballot, argues the culture of tipping leads to an environment where employees must put up with sexual harassment. They also said federal requirements that say employers must make up the tipped wage difference are not fully enforced.

"The tipped minimum wage puts women in the compromising position of having to please employers and guests, as their livelihood depends on their capacity to earn tips. It is not surprising that the accommodation and food services industry, which includes the vast majority of tipped workers, is the largest source of EEOC sexual harassment claims," the group said in literature supporting the increased minimum wage.

The initiative's supporters said seven states have passed similar legislation and maintains that restaurants have continued to flourish in cities like San Francisco and Seattle.

D.C.'s June 19 election is a closed primary, but voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote on Initiaitive 77.