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On Minimum Wage In D.C., It's Not If To Raise It—But Rather By How Much

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The D.C. Council is once again weighing legislation to increase the minimum wage in the District.
Patrick Madden
The D.C. Council is once again weighing legislation to increase the minimum wage in the District.

It doesn’t appear to be question of “if” D.C. raises its minimum wage — as Council members repeatedly stated during a hearing on Monday, “That train has left the station." Rather, the debate seems to revolve around how much, how soon, and whether the raise applies to tipped workers such as bartenders and servers in restaurants.

After failing to pass a "living wage" bill targeting big box retailers like Walmart in September, legislators used the daylong hearing to debate four competing bills that would increase the city's minimum wage from $8.25 to between $10.55 and $12.50, the highest in the nation.

Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who chairs the committee overseeing the process, says he plans to craft together a bill that will have at least nine votes making it, unlike the Walmart Bill, veto proof.

He's already got the support of Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who said that its impossible to get by in Washington under the current minimum wage. “You cannot live in D.C. with the current minimum wage, nor at $10 dollars an hour," he said.

There appears to be little opposition to raising the wage floor, and even D.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Barbara Lang conceded support for what she calls a “reasonable” increase. But Lang says she wants time for the business community to conduct a study to find out what that “reasonable” level might be.

The biggest disagreement to emerge during the day long hearing is whether tipped workers should receive an increase from the base level of $2.77 an hour.

Representatives from the restaurant industry pushed back over a proposal to increase the wages of tipped workers, arguing it would hurt business owners, customers, and ultimately the workers themselves. They say the law requires restaurants to compensate tipped workers who don’t make the equivalent of a minimum wage — but it's unclear how well that law has been enforced.

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