Mayor Bowser’s Minimum Wage Proposal Sparks Backlash

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) April 19 proposal for a citywide minimum wage hike to $15 per hour by 2020 has drawn fire from labor activists challenging its policies for tipped workers.

Under Bowser’s proposal, the minimum wage for tipped workers would increase from the current $2.77 per hour to $7.50 by 2022, falling short of advocates’ hopes that the tipped wage system would be overhauled in favor of a universal $15 per hour minimum pay.

“As I stated in the State of the District Address, we are going to answer the President’s call to raise the minimum wage,” Bowser wrote in the proposal. “Cities and states across the country are proving that decent wages and strong business climates are not mutually exclusive. This Administration is committed to providing District residents with a fair shot and creating a worker and business friendly environment in which we maintain our regional competitiveness.”

A survey conducted by the Washington City Paper in January found 87 percent of D.C. adults support a $15 minimum wage in the District.

The legislation further imposes fines of up to thousands of dollars and imprisonment for employers who fail to comply with at least the general minimum wage after gratuities, based on mandatory quarterly reports submitted to the District’s Department of Employment Services.

Bowser’s proposal coincides with a ballot measure pushed by advocates who must now gather 25,000 signatures by July for the $15 minimum wage to be put to a vote in a District-wide Nov. 8 referendum. If passed, the initiative would maintain Bowser’s $15 by 2020 plan but phase in a $15-per-hour wage for tipped-workers by 2024.

D.C.’s Restaurant Opportunities Center Director Gaby Madriz said in an April 19 press release that the ballot measure better represented the public’s interests than Bowser’s proposal.

“Mayor Bowser’s heart is in the right place but she’s completely out of sync with the people of D.C. on this proposal,” Madriz said. “Our initiative calls for $15 for all. That means every single D.C. workers with no exceptions, and polls suggest that’s more popular than the mayor herself. If she can’t get the entire job done and establish one fair wage for all low-wage workers in D.C., then Mayor Bowser should get out of the way and let the people act.”

Nicole Smith, chief economist of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said the most visible impact of bolstering the minimum wage will likely be inflation in the economy, and that lower-skilled workers may be shut out of the small businesses that drive the local economy.

“With many improvements in someone’s income, it improves their purchasing power and gives them the opportunity to become inflationary, and that’s really the negative aspect of it,” Smith said. “There are going to be some small businesses that won’t be able to hire that extra dish washer as a result of a jump in wages.”

Nevertheless, Smith said the current expansionary trajectory of the economy since the 2008 financial crisis is equipped to accommodate a $15 minimum wage with little economic detriment.

“When you look at a city like Washington, D.C., something has to be done about the wage disparity that exists between the haves and the have-nots,” Smith said. “Fifteen dollars by 2020 might seem like a difficult goal, but for the individuals who benefit from the additional money it could mean everything from affordable housing to better nutrition for low-income families.”

According to a living wage calculator created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage for a household comprised of one adult is $14.84.

Kory Stuer (COL ’19), a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee stressed the importance of including tipped workers in the conversations surrounding the minimum wage hike.

“Tipped workers are particularly vulnerable to wage theft, and just not knowing how much money they’re going to make in a day leads to a lot of economic instability,” Stuer said. “It’s important for them to have that same level of economic stability, and I think the [Restaurant Opportunities Center] makes it clear that we need to help all workers and not just some workers.”

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