THE loss of hundreds of jobs, the closing of dozens of businesses and possible price increases for restaurant food are all on the menu, if Initiative 77 is approved by District voters on June 19. The likelihood of passage of “the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017,” has increased by the deliberate misrepresentation of the measure’s intent and the decision by the DC Board of Elections to place it on the Primary ballot.
Just to be clear: The real problem with the city’s wage laws isn’t the amount of money being paid to workers. Rather, it’s the government’s apparent lax enforcement.
Instead of focusing on that fact, proponents of Initiative 77 including the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCU), a carpetbagging national advocacy group, want to mandate redundancies. For example, they want an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
There already is a DC law that requires such an increase. Based on that law, the minimum wage is currently $12.50.
The ROCU and other advocates want to bully the government into forcing businesses to pay the minimum wage to tip workers, especially those in the restaurant and hospitality industries like servers and bartenders. But businesses already are required to pay their tipped workers the minimum wage. If, for example, a server’s or bartender’s tips on any given day do not reach the per hour minimum wage established by law, the employer must make up the difference.
Truth be told, many tipped workers receive far more than the minimum wage. If Initiative 77 is approved, an employer could choose to only pay workers the minimum wage, essentially implementing a cut in their income. That reduction in income for workers could ultimately mean a loss of revenue for the city. Equally disturbing, a small business that cannot provide minimum wage across the board for all its workers, could be put out of operation. Or to meet the mandate of Initiative 77, it could choose to increase the price of its food or other products.
No one is well served.
Tip workers have been fighting the effort by this outside group for more than a year. Mayor Muriel Bowser and seven DC Council members oppose the initiative, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Chairman Pro tempore Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd, and At-large council members Anita Bonds and David Grosso.
I am with them. District voters should reject Initiative 77.
Here’s the problem, however: The Initiative is on the primary ballot. The District has a closed primary. That means only registered members of a party may vote, and only in their party’s primary. Republicans can only vote for Republicans. Democrats only for Democrats.
Independents like me and so called “minor party members” are excluded from the primary voting—except this year. Since all voters must have the opportunity to vote on an initiative, the elections board will open the primary on June 19. But non-party members (Independents) and minor party members will receive a ballot that contains only Initiative 77.
It’s likely that many Independents or minor party members won’t come out for a single issue. You can bet ROCU and other Initiative 77 proponents are banking on that.
When I asked Board of Elections Executive Director Alice P. Miller whether there could be a change, holding the vote for the November General Election, for example, her answer was no. She said the city’s Home Rule Charter, which is its Constitution, requires the voting takes place for an initiative a specific number of days after the elections board has approved it or at the next citywide election. Initiative 77 received final approval in March 2018.
Mendelson said he was not inclined to try to push for a change in the rules during the middle of an election season. Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen who oversees the elections board, said he had some concerns about the measure being placed on a primary ballot. “It ultimately is up to BOE on how they inform voters,” Allen said through his spokesperson.
Don’t you love it when elected officials wash their hands of a matter critically important to the public.? If tipped workers see a drop in their income, Allen may be the first elected official they will want to visit.
Miller said she and her staff are working hard to get the word out, except in at least one instance the method they used raised more questions than answers. The mailer I received had me confused about who the board meant when it referred to “Minor Party" members, who also aren’t allowed to vote in the primary. Did they mean any party other than the Democratic Party, which is the dominant party in the city? Miller said no.
It turns out there are more than two dozen Minor Party groups, whose approval date as far back as 1972. There is the Independent Husband Liberation Party and the Cocktail Party, which was approved in 1988. The Theocratic Party was approved in 2000 while the HEROSHERO Party and the One Minute Past Twelve Party were both approved in 2009. The elections board does not keep track of whether individuals vote under these parties or not.
So why have them? Further, if the voter rolls are purged every few years, why aren’t these parties that seem to lack any purpose purged? And why isn’t it more difficult to get a party designation in this city? Is the political process simply a joke in the nation’s capital?
Having an initiative as important as 77 on the primary ballot is equally troubling. It has been done before said Miller. She listed these: Legalize Gambling was voted on in the 1980 presidential primary. DC Mandatory Minimum Sentences was voted on in the 1982 primary and the Prohibition of Horse Drawn Carriages Act of 1990 was voted on in 1991 in a special election.
Am I the only person who thinks the city’s election laws need serious reform beyond the question of whose campaign is or isn’t being financed and how?