D.C. Council Raises Minimum Wage, Guarantees Paid Sick Days for All

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D.C. Council Raises Minimum Wage, Guarantees Paid Sick Days for All

Emily Crockett

The measures passed thanks in part to strong local organizing efforts, but it was a mixed outcome for tipped restaurant workers.

The Council of the District of Columbia on Tuesday unanimously passed both a substantial minimum wage increase and a bill guaranteeing paid sick days for tipped restaurant workers.

The minimum wage increase, expected to be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray, will give D.C. one of the highest minimum wages in the country. The minimum wage will rise from $8.25 to $11.50 until 2016, and will be indexed to inflation thereafter.

Tipped restaurant workers had been left out of D.C.’s last paid sick days bill, but now they can earn paid time off for personal or family illness, or for dealing with a domestic violence issue. Workers can start accruing leave immediately and use it after 90 days, up to five days off per year depending on the size of the employer.

“This is a huge victory for working moms and for women working in low-wage industries,” Monica Kamen, an organizer with Jews United for Justice and Paid Sick Days for All, told Rewire. Sixty-six percent of tipped restaurant workers nationwide are women.

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The council voted down a proposal to increase the tipped minimum wage, currently $2.77, to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. But the idea still has momentum: Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced the defeated measure as a stand-alone bill, and D.C. Working Families will address the issue with a ballot initiative.

“[The restaurant industry] saw paid sick days as more of an inevitability, because we really had a lot of council support for the issue,” Kamen said. “But they fought really hard to make sure that tipped workers didn’t get a raise, and they won that fight.”

Still, organizing efforts from a broad coalition of D.C. social justice organizations likely bolstered the council’s support for the two measures that did pass.

“We’ve been flooding the councilmembers with phone calls every five minutes through the course of the day,” Kamen said. “I think that had a huge impact on making sure paid sick days stayed on the agenda, and that both the bills didn’t get amended and had unanimous support.”

The minimum wage bill in particular was almost an inevitability after the failure of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would have set a wage of $12.50 for workers at places like Walmart. After Mayor Gray vetoed the bill, councilmembers vowed to pass a general minimum wage increase and introduced four separate bills to do so.

“It’s a historic moment where the entire council came together unanimously on both issues, and sent a really strong statement to the mayor and to the rest of the country that D.C. is a city that supports working families,” Kamen said.

Correction: A version of this article incorrectly noted that the current minimum wage in Washington, D.C., is $8.50. It is in fact $8.25. We regret the error.