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D.C.’s War Over Restaurant Tips Will Soon Go National

The District’s voters will decide Initiative 77, which would raise the minimum wage on tipped employees. Why don’t workers support it?
A waiter hustles at the iconic Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C.
A waiter hustles at the iconic Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C.Kamenko Pajic/Reuters

In less than a week, voters in Washington, D.C., will settle a national debate over tipping. The District’s upcoming primary election includes a ballot measure called Initiative 77, a policy to gradually raise the minimum wage that tipped workers receive. Two national restaurant groups are turning D.C. into a proxy war over a wide-reaching and politically fraught norm: the tip.

In one corner: One Fair Wage, the campaign to raise the base pay that waiters, bartenders, and other tipped workers earn in the District. The pro-77 side is almost entirely the work of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a national nonprofit advocacy organization. If 77 passes, employers will pay a single minimum wage throughout the city. No more tiers. Currently, tipped-wage workers can make a lot more (or a lot less) than the regular minimum wage.