As Theresa Vargas wrote in The Washington Post yesterday, our voices are not being heard.
Living in DC as tipped workers—one of us a valet and the other a restaurant server—we work long hours and rely on unpredictable tips from customers to make ends meet. We were astonished by the treatment we received from some members of the DC Council at Monday’s hearing on One Fair Wage, where many of us stayed until 3 am despite having to go into work that morning.
Initiative 77, which called for One Fair Wage in DC—requiring restaurants to pay the full minimum wage plus tips—was passed at 56% by the popular will of the voters and received the most support from primarily low-income black wards. However, some members of the DC City Council are threatening to overturn this vote based on lobbying from the Restaurant Association.
On Monday, around 100 of us tipped workers and our friends and allies went to the John Wilson Building to testify before the DC Council in support of One Fair Wage. We went to raise our voices against a repeal of One Fair Wage.
Despite our turnout, the DC Council Leadership pushed us aside. They heard only three of us speaking in favor of Initiative 77 within the first 3 hours. The Council spent the first few hours questioning and engaging with several dozen witnesses, all lined up in advance by the National Restaurant Association, who spoke out against One Fair Wage. Most tipped workers and allies who had come out in support of One Fair Wage were called up after 5 pm. Many of us had to go home before we could speak. This was particularly frustrating in light of the fact that Council Chair Phil Mendelson prepared the opposition to testify a few days before the hearing.
I, Dia King, a valet attendant, was the only non-restaurant tipped worker who testified for either side. I was called up to speak after 2 am. I also had to be at work at 7 am that day. The Council could have scheduled several hearings to give workers and the public enough time to provide testimony at decent hours of the day but, alas, they did not. I stayed at the hearing on Monday until I was able to give my testimony in the early hours of the morning, then went home to get ready for work.
I, Trupti Patel, am a restaurant server who also stayed 18 hours at the Wilson Building on Monday. We—tipped workers and our allies in support of a raise—were definitely outnumbered by the opposition. It was easy for the opposition to fill the room—workers in the opposition had the the full support and encouragement of their employers to take the day off. Those of us who came out in support are not so fortunate. When asked why other workers were not testifying in support of One Fair Wage before Council, I told my story of retaliation and bullying. My employer began cutting my shifts as I became more involved with the One Fair Wage campaign. Tuesday, the day after the hearing, the day after I spent 18 hours at the Wilson Building asking the DC Council to respect the will of the voters, my employer cut my only remaining shift per week.
How can we expect more workers to testify in support of One Fair Wage when the DC Council exhibits blatant favoritism to the opposition? How do we expect more people in support of One Fair Wage to turn out when this means losing your job? How do we expect people to “get out the vote” when a week later, DC Council introduces a bill to overturn that exact vote? Shame on Chairman Mendelson for silencing the public and shame on any other Councilmember who supports him in repealing One Fair Wage.
If you live in DC, Send the DC Councilmembers a message that you stand with the restaurant workers and ask them to respect the voters’ will.
—Dia King and Trupti Patel
Dia King is a valet attendant and Trupti Patel is a bartender. Both are tipped workers in the District of Columbia and are public supporters of Initiative 77.