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DC Restaurant Industry Rallies Against Vote To Raise Minimum Wage

Photo Obtained By TheDCNF via Martins Tavern

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Henry Rodgers Capitol Hill Reporter

Voters in Washington, D.C., will decide if they want to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers Tuesday, causing fear from many in the restaurant industry that they will lose their businesses or their jobs.

The initiative was put forward by Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), a government-funded group, that claims if passed, tipped workers would all be paid the same amount, regardless of effort or seniority. Restaurant owners and tipped workers in D.C., however, are not pleased with the initiative, fearing they would lose money and be forced to move to a state without these laws.

Initiative 77 raises the minimum wage for tipped workers from $3.33 an hour to $15. Meaning, non-tipped employees would be paid the same as a tipped employee, which many in the industry do not believe is right. The raise in the minimum wage would be implemented over time, with yearly increases until the wage reaches $15 in 2026.

“Fairness is complicated. More so Fairness is made complicated by intricate political schemes hell-bent on trading Reality with Fairness. You can see this in the talking points of every proponent of the Government Funded, Neo-Marxist ROC-DC’s Initiative 77,” food and beverage director Dane Nakamura told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Nakamura, who has been in the restaurant industry for 17 years, said he was appalled that ROC was using political talking points to get their message across instead of focusing on the real issue at hand, which could leave many in the industry unemployed.

“Using politics to push unrealistic but ‘fair’ legislation like this is antithetical to the economic principles that have created the booming Washington D.C. restaurant industry — an industry that supplies 68,900 jobs. Words like compassion and fair mean nothing when you degrade those jobs because you think you can make reality disappear with a vote,” Nakamura continued.

Billy Martin, the owner of the historic Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, has been a leader in the fight against initiative 77, saying he fears his business would have to raise its prices or add a service charge, in order to keep up with the demand of raising the minimum wage from $3.33 an hour to $15.

“Well the main concern I have with ballot  initiative 77 is the whole aspect of what it represents. Of course we’re all in favor of everybody making a living wage and doing what they’ve got to do. But in this instance the group that’s really behind this whole thing R.O.C., they’re calling this a ‘one fair wage’ and I just don’t see that in the hospitality industry, there is no one fair wage. As a matter of fact I just think if you go across the country from state to state, town to town, a one size fits all, which is really what a one fair wage is, is a one size fits all, it just does not fit,” Martin told TheDCNF.

Martin also noted that raising the wage of tipped employees to $15 an hour would make it extremely difficult on the restaurant due to the large increase in additional payroll, saying owners would “have to raise prices.”

“I don’t care if you work at Walmart, Kmart, the grocery store or retail wherever, if you’re going to get 15 dollars an hour then the owner or operator has to pay you fifteen dollars an hour and their payroll goes up substantially, they will have to raise prices,” Martin continued.

But, it’s not just restaurant owners who are unhappy, tipped workers across D.C. have said they are against initiative 77 because it will directly affect their tips, which many workers mainly rely on. Many of the tipped workers fear that if the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour they would lose a significant amount of money from receiving less money in tips. Another concern is that owners will not be able to afford to pay the same amount of tipped employees $15 during every shift, leaving many with fewer hours and less money.

Travis Weiss, director of culinary concepts at Rebellion DC and The Armory, held a pop-up event with other tipped employees from the D.C. area one week before the vote, which demonstrated how initiative 77 would hurt businesses. The goal was to provide awareness on the problems with the initiative while raising money for charity. For example, a drink that would usually cost $12, was listed at $17.97, due to raising the hourly minimum wage to $15. All of the proceeds were going to be donated to DC Coalition to End Sexual Violence (DCCSV), to raise awareness on sexual assault.

However, using numbers that would be law in 2026, the pop-up event ended up losing money. But as of Monday afternoon, a majority of the tipped employees agreed to donate their hourly pay from the pop-up to DCCSV.

“This concept under the 2026 plan would not last. After rent, insurance, legal fees, incidentals, partner guarantees, utilities, marketing and a multitude of other day-to-day financial obligations are all accounted for this concept would be operating at a complete financial loss. There are zero profits and insufficient funds to operate. Eventually bills would go unpaid. This concept would only last as long as the startup operating funds in the bank would allow it to,” Weiss said to TheDCNF after the pop-up.

Weiss was joined by members of a coalition called Save Our Tips which has led the fight against initiative 77, hosting events, making signs, buttons, flyers and spreading awareness on the issue. The group is filled with tipped-employees who believe initiative 77 could cost them their jobs. Throughout the city, there are “Vote No on 77” signs, funded by Save Our Tips, posted in front of several dozen restaurants.

“The ballot initiative, it’s poorly written. It’s been misconstrued. And both sides agree that they cannot forecast the future accurately. So based on all these factors, you should know we should just continue the conversation going forward. It’s too aggressive. It hasn’t been well thought out and it’s a one size fits all model that won’t work in D.C,” Karim Soumah, a tipped employee in D.C. and volunteer for “Save Our Tips” told TheDCNF.

Soumah also said the issue should not be politicized and mentioned that ROC was funded by the “super far left” such as billionaire George Soros and Warren Buffett, calling ROC a “special interest group.” (RELATED: ‘Thousands Of Restaurants’ May Close After Minimum Wage Hikes)

“I’ve been a Democrat my entire life. But honestly even within our party that disturbs me. I hate fringe politics. I think it’s divisive. Sometimes there’s no conclusion to what the end goal is and oftentimes whatever their practice will end up being, it’s too expensive. It’s just not rational. It doesn’t make any sense,” Soumah continued. “You can’t just upheave an entire system just because you’re worried about a handful. It’s just it’s not rational and especially in a job that demands meritocracy.”

The movement against initiative 77 has spread throughout the nation’s capital, making those who promote the initiative harder and harder to find.

Justin Zelikovitz, an attorney for DCWageLaw said he supports initiative 77 because he thinks tipping is “an inefficient and strange way to compensate such a large sector of people.”

“I’m not a trained economist. I don’t know how all this is going to shake out but it seems to me that you know if people are coming to restaurants after this passes and leaving fewer tips then you just raise prices by that amount, the diner pays the same. You can allocate things so that the servers make the same everything can be the same. I don’t really understand. I mean there’s going to be an adjustment period. But this you know takes place gradually through the year 2026,” Zelikovitz said to TheDCNF.

Zelikovitz believes businesses would not be negatively affected and that all restaurants would have to do is “allocate things so that the servers make the same.”

“When you create exceptions to the baseline rules like we have to pay people a minimum wage you have to pay people overtime. You create a lot of opportunities for abuse and some of its intentional. But a lot of its unintentional. I mean the tip credit is fantastically complicated for someone that’s not a lawyer, who doesn’t do this stuff,” Zelikovitz continued.

ROC refused to respond to dozens of inquiries from TheDCNF about why voters should vote for their initiative.

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