DC Restaurant Workers Just Received A Major Tipped Wage Win

Workers in fast food and restaurants have had a tough couple of years to say the least. In the wake of the pandemic, both managers and customers have reportedly become much more abusive, with Business Insider reporting that 62% of food service workers report being harassed or abused by customers and 49% say the same about managers. Violence on the job has gotten so bad that The Counter says labor activists have taken to logging 911 calls, which show that at least 77,000 violent incidents against workers were reported from 2017 to 2020 — even before the post-pandemic surge in abuse — so it's no surprise that workers are leaving the industry in droves while chains strain to recruit new employees.

When you throw the peculiarities of tipping in with an abusive work environment, you have a real problem. According to the Department of Labor, many states have a minimum wage for tipped employees that is well below the normal wage, leaving workers vulnerable to fickle customers that are needed to make for increased prices. That isn't working out too well because, in spite of deteriorating working conditions, diners are tipping less over the past few years than they were before the pandemic. 

This disastrous cocktail of abuse and lowering tips has triggered a surge of labor activism in food service, with California passing a new wage law and places like Washington D.C. seeing a measure to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers.

DC voters raised the tipped wage in a landslide vote

While things may be getting so bad in food service that workers are suing their employers, in some places it looks like they have voters on their side. With over 90% of the votes counted, Fox 5 DC reports that Initiative 82, the tipped minimum wage ballot issued in the nation's capital, is receiving more than 70% of the vote. The initiative will raise the minimum wage for tipped employees in Washington D.C. to $16.10 an hour, no matter how much they make in tips. This victory comes on the heels of a 2018 measure that was approved by a much smaller margin at the polls, but then overturned by the D.C. city council amid pressure for the restaurant industry.

The measure will mean major changes to the way tipped workers in D.C. are compensated, which goes beyond food service to salon, hotels, and other service retail jobs. DCist reports that the current wage is $5.35 an hour, with employers making up the difference from the standard minimum wage if tips don't cover it.

The full effect of the new law will take a while to be felt, but D.C. voters have taken a step to bring the food service compensation so many people rely on in line with the rest of the economy.