D.C. becomes the latest city to approve a $15 minimum wage—but not everyone is cheering


Lawmakers in Washington D.C. gave final approval this week for a measure to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2020. In doing so, the District joins a growing number of cities around the country which have mandated an increased living wage for low income workers or are in the process of doing so.

According to The Washington Post, D.C.’s minimum wage—which will be set at $11.50 beginning next month— will increase by approximately $0.70 cents each year until 2020, when it should reach $15.00. At that point, any further increases in hourly wage will be proportionally tied to inflation.

D.C. council-member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) who supported the recently approved bill, officially titled the “Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016” characterized the increase as “a step in the right direction” that will “help alleviate issues many workers face living in the District of Columbia.”

Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic, however.

“I’m not happy about where we ended up on tipped workers,” Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At large) told The Post. Per this new law, tipped wages will increase from $2.50 an hour to $5.00 by 2020, with the rest of an employee’s paycheck coming from tips. If, however, the sum total of an employee’s intake doesn’t reach the minimum wage, it will be up to the employer to make up the difference, American University’s WAMU reported.

The fight over tipped wages proved to be a major sticking point in the debate over the bill, as well as the impetus for its passage. As WAMU explained, a local association of restaurant and bar owners, fearing a possible ballot measure in November which would have proposed increasing tipped wages to $15.00 an hour by 2024, chose to work with D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser to limit any increases in this bill instead. So, while many restaurant and bar employees will see their minimum wage increase slightly, they’ll still be largely beholden to tips in order to make ends meet.

Regarding the increase, and its effect on tip-earners, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, is quoted as saying:

The D.C. Council vote shows the unstoppable momentum of the $15 minimum wage and will improve the lives of thousands of workers.  But the Council’s refusal to meaningfully raise the tipped wage leaves behind 29,000 restaurant, nail salon, car wash and other tipped workers.  With San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle having raised the tipped wage to $15, and New York raising it to $10, it is disappointing that city leadership as progressive and diverse as D.C.’s would not do more.

Some critics of the wage increase also contend that it will also serve to drive businesses out of the district to nearby Virginia, where the minimum wage remains at the $7.25 federal baseline.

Mayor Bowser, however, was unambiguous in her support of the measure. On Tuesday her office celebrated the bill’s approval on Twitter, calling it a “pathway to the middle class.”

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