The Fight for $15 notched another win on June 7 when the D.C. City Council approved a plan to increase the local minimum wage to $15 by 2020. But restaurant servers and other tipped employees were left out of the deal. In a city with a booming restaurant scene, lawmakers plan to increase tipped workers’ minimum wage to only $5 from the current $2.77. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United immediately filed a ballot initiative to put the issue before DC voters in 2018. Restaurant worker Christopher Alvear explains why this fight is so important.
I am a tipped employee at Sonoma Restaurant in Washington, D.C. Money is not stable so I constantly find myself picking up shifts to make up for previous shifts. I have been a tipped worker for over 23 years in the District. As a tipped employee, my wages have been the same for as long as I have been in this profession.
We need to improve the quality of our life. I can’t even afford health insurance, in an environment that puts me, at 43, lifting heavy objects, being an ambassador to our tourists, and also working up to 14 hours a day.
I strongly believe that we deserve nothing less than 100 percent of the minimum wage and that is why we are moving forward with a ballot initiative that gives us full dignity and respect as tipped workers. As our economy is moving forward, as well as prices increasing in everyday living, so should my wages. As a tipped worker, I participate 100 percent in this economy, so why don’t I deserve to be paid 100 percent of what other minimum wage workers make?
If I make a base wage equivalent to the full minimum wage instead of the $2.77 I make now, I could not only have stability in my own day-to-day expenses, but I would also be able to contribute to the economy at a higher rate. Trust me, those of us in the restaurant industry love to eat and drink out when we are not in our own restaurants providing quality service.
Have you ever had to rely solely on the tips you make? Then you would know that it is not possible. Some days, I make $30 in tips and some days I make $150. That is not a calculated risk. I have no way to calculate. We need and deserve stability and the ability to plan ahead.
All research, numbers, and personal experience points to the fact that in states that have one fair wage, where tipped workers make a living wage as their base wage, we can pay rent and pay loans off and save. The sky has not fallen and people have continued to tip at rates higher than in places like D.C. that have a two-tiered system. We deserve a real wage plus our tips. We have no fear that this increase in our base wage will have any negative impact on our tips.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports an 84 percent violation rate with regard to employers complying with the tipped credit law, which requires employers to make up the difference if a worker doesn’t make the minimum wage during their shift. Even if there was 100 percent compliance, workers being reliant on tips for any portion of their base wage makes them vulnerable to customer and coworker harassment.
Our industry also has the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry, and the rate of sexual harassment in our industry has been cut in half in states that have completely eliminated the lower wage for tipped workers.
D.C. is the nation’s capital and has a chance to be the leading voice in saying that we have a stronger and more vibrant economy when all workers are paid a living wage.