DC Council Repealed Voter-Approved Initiative 77

Shutterstock | Burlingham

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Yesterday, the DC City Council voted 8 to 5 to repeal the democratically enacted Initiative 77. The ballot measure would have gradually raised the tipped minimum wage until it matched the regular DC minimum wage of $15/hr. This is an outrage.

This summer, Initiative 77 won the support of voters by an 11-point margin. Instead of this being the end of it, City Council has allowed a well-organized, well-founded minority of voters to influence city policy and counteract the will of the voters. Although only one ward, Ward 3, saw a majority of voters say no (by a 1 point margin), the bulk of the DC Council has pushed for repeal since the results of Initiative 77 were made public. With only one of the eight “yes” votes for repeal coming from a council-member representing a ward that voted against 77, this means the majority of the DC Council believes they know better than their constituents, and will legislate how they see fit, and not as they were elected to.

This is anti-democratic, no matter how you spin it. The same Councilmembers who have cited low voter turnout during a primary vote have not questioned the validity of other primary wins, nor have these Councilmembers who blamed the ballot question for being confusing or misleading considered voters could have gotten tripped up when choosing “no,” not just “yes.” Regardless of their excuses, at the end of the day the DC Council made a choice to not respect the wishes of the majority of DC voters. The Council instead decided to legislate on behalf of the National Restaurant Association and restaurateurs, a group that has donated significant amounts of money to nearly every member of the DC Council.

Contrary to the restaurant lobby’s statements, most restaurant servers in DC barely make the minimum wage. For workers at non high-end dining locations, raising the tipped minimum wage would have been hugely consequential. Right now, tipped workers in the city are twice as likely to live in poverty and use food stamps compared to the rest of the workforce. They are also more likely to be sexually harassed, as the seven states with one fair wage have seen the number of complaints within the restaurant industry cut in half since getting rid of the tipped minimum wage. Due to the City Council’s vote against the wishes of voters, this will not change.

It would be one thing if the Congressional Republicans’ amendment to prevent Initiative 77 from going into effect was successful. But for the Council democratically elected by one of the most progressive cities in the country to assume they know better than their own constituents is just unacceptable. In a city without Congressional voting representation– one that suffers from taxation without federal representation– this override of the voters wishes should be career-ending. How do they expect to campaign for another term when voters now know they legislate how they see fit, and not as voters would want? Councilmembers complained about low voter turnout during the primary; after Tuesday’s events, a vote in DC seems even less consequential. Yesterday’s decision is not only a massive blow to tipped workers, but our democracy as well.

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