June 14, 2016
Contact: Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236,
Dallas Donnell, 215-870-7076,

Restaurant Opportunities Center of DC Re-files Ballot Measure Calling for Elimination of Lower Tipped Minimum Wage in Washington D.C.

DC Workers Speak Out At Press Conference on DC Primary Day; ROC Action Exposes Contributions of Restaurant Industry to DC Council Members Who Excluded Tipped Workers from Recent Wage Deal

New Poll: 78 percent of D.C. voters would support a ballot initiative to fix the omission of tipped workers from the full $15 minimum wage — view HERE

Full text of ballot initiative available HERE  — New Report on Tipped Wage’s Impact on DC’s Workers HERE

View Sign-on Letter Of Supporting Organizations HERE

Washington D.C. — Today, at a press conference outside the Wilson Building, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United joined with Washington D.C.’s tipped workers to re-file a ballot initiative that will eliminate the unfair, lower tipped minimum wage in D.C, and establish One Fair Wage for all workers.

The ballot initiative, submitted today, will take roughly two months to be approved. From there, ROC will join tipped workers and their allies to amass the necessary signatures over the course of the following six months. According to ROC, the measure could be up for a vote as soon as 2017.

The initiative comes on the heels of Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council’s recent wage deal that increased the minimum wage to $15 for everyone but tipped workers. Largely women and people of color, tipped workers face disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment as a result of the sub minimum wage system. The tipped wage increase — from $2.77 to just $5 — is a disrespectful drop in the bucket toward the equity and dignity they deserve for their hard and valuable work.

ROC United Co-Founder and Co-Director, Saru Jayaraman said, “We spend more money eating out than any other nation. And yet, the restaurant industry — America’s largest employer of minimum wage workers — is our nation’s lowest paying.” She continues, “Almost half of all minimum wage workers are in the restaurant industry. Almost half of all women minimum wage workers are in the industry. D.C.’s recent wage deal almost completely leaves these workers out, and that is a travesty. We can and we will do better.”

The stakes have never been higher for D.C.’s tipped workers, who are forced to scrape by on the kindness of strangers, rather than a living wage from their employer. D.C. tipped worker, Jessica Martin said, “My mother is a server, my father is a chef. My first job and my last job have been in this industry. I’ve worked 50 hours a week and still needed food stamps to survive, because this system is broken.” D.C. Bartender, Woong Chang agrees: “I worked as a tipped worker in California and here in Washington, DC. When I was looking for a job, I blanketed the city with my resumes. They asked,  ‘How much did you expect to make?’ I said $10 or $11 plus tips, and he laughed in my face.”

Many of D.C.’s employers are ready for One Fair Wage as well. Imar Hutchins owns the Florida Avenue Grill, our nation’s oldest, continually black-owned restaurant, a fact of great significance to the ongoing fight for One Fair Wage. “What does that have to do with One Fair Wage?,” he asked. “The practice of tipping is rooted in slavery. It is not hard to believe. The terminology– ‘Back of the House’ and ‘Front of the House.’ The whole practice of tipping goes back to when slaves were freed and people didn’t think they had to pay them.”

At a hearing prior to last week’s vote, the council heard from a number of tipped workers, who gave detailed testimony on their experiences living off tips, and the need for One Fair Wage in D.C. Clearly their voices were ignored. Last week’s vote was disappointing, but hardly surprising. Council members have received thousands of dollars in contributions from the restaurant industry lobby. In return, rather than allowing D.C. voters to be heard on this issue, the Council made that decision — the wrong decision — for them.

With the filing of this ballot measure, workers and their allies affirm that this fight is far from over; the people will be heard on this issue. Last month, twenty-four labor and women’s rights organizations signed a letter calling for One Fair Wage in DC, including, the National Organization for Women, which was in attendance at today’s conference. NOW-DC President, Jeanine Johnson, said, “I am here as a former tipped worker. It was 20 years ago, and I was paid exactly what people are paid now. The harassment I experienced, I didn’t know I didn’t have to take it. I needed that money to pay my bills. I had no idea. And that is crazy. So we, DC Now, stand and National NOW stands for One Fair Wage.”

Tipped Wage Facts:

–There are currently seven states where tipped workers receive the regular minimum wage. In these states, restaurant job growth is stronger and poverty rates among tipped workers are dramatically lower, than in states where tipped workers are paid $2.13 – demonstrating that one fair wage is good for both our economy and our families.

Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and SeaTac, Washington, all of which have approved a $15 minimum wage, have strong restaurant industries with growing employment even without a subminimum wage for tipped workers.  Since Seattle passed its trailblazing $15 minimum wage, the number of food services and beverage industry business licenses issued by the city has increased by 6 percent.

–The US is the only industrialized nation where tipped workers depend on tips for a majority of their income.

–The restaurant industry is one of the largest growing industries in the nation, and the largest employer of minimum wage workers (1 in 12 Americans).

–Half of restaurant workers live at or near the poverty line.

–Nearly 70% of restaurant workers are women.

–53% of tipped workers are people of color.

–90% of restaurant workers have been sexually harassed on the job.

–The last time the Federal tipped minimum wage was raised was in 1991.

–1 in 7 tipped workers relies on food stamps to feed themselves and their families.

For more information about tipped worker stories, research and the need to eliminate the subminimum tipped wage, visit the 1 Fair Wage Campaign at


About Restaurant Opportunities Centers United:

Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News), ROC United has 18,000 worker-members, 200 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members in 15 states in the U.S., winning 15 worker-led campaigns, recovering $10 million in stolen tips and wages.