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D.C. voters approve Initiative 77, raising minimum wage for tipped workers

Initiative 77: Tipped worker wage takes center stage in D.C. primary election (ABC7)

On Tuesday night, D.C. voters approved Initiative 77, which will raise the minimum wage for tipped workers like servers and bartenders.

The ballot measure, which was by far the most controversial issue of the D.C. Primary, passed with 55 percent of the vote.

Initiative 77 will require restaurants to gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped employees so that they, like other workers in the District, will eventually make $15 an hour.

RELATED: Debate on Initiative 77 overshadows candidates in DC's Democratic primary

“This is a great victory for workers,” said Diana Ramirez, with the Restaurant Opportunities Center that sponsored Initiative 77 and pushed for its passage. “We deserve professional wages. And this is going to send a loud message to not just the District but to the nation that we have to treat everyone with dignity and have to pay all our professionals, professional wages.”

But not everyone was happy with the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Opponents of Initiative 77 have said it will impose crippling costs on restaurant owners and force independently-owned restaurants to close their doors.

“For me specifically, I care about jobs. The establishments won’t be able to afford what the compensation scale will be,” said bartender Frank Mills. “And at that point, a lot of people will lose their jobs.”

Some servers and bartenders have also argued that they make more than $15 an hour in tips.

They believe that not all voters knew what they were approving. Now, opponents of Initiative 77 say they’ll turn to DC Council for help.

“We’re going to take it to Council, keep fighting, because if so few people knew what they were voting on and so much of the D.C. government is opposed to it, I think it’s time to re-evaluate it before it becomes something we abide by in D.C.,” said bartender Leah Simone.

Several council members have already spoken out against Initiative 77. That’s something that Initiative 77 supporters are also aware of.

RELATED: Initiative 77 – a war over restaurant tips – to go to polls Tuesday in D.C.

Even in the midst of Tuesday night’s celebrations, Ramirez said she recognizes that DC Council has the power to intervene.

“The next step is going to be to ask council not to overturn the will of the voters,” she said. “Most of the council members have come out personally against it, and they’re entitled to their own vote. But they need to listen to the majority of their constituents and not overturn the democratic process.”

Currently, tipped workers in the District make just $3.33 an hour. Under Initiative 77, they would make $15 an hour by 2026.

Initiative 77 supporters held a news conference and rally outside the John A. Wilson building on Wednesday morning, to send a message to Council.

“We ask Council to work with all stakeholders to ensure a smooth and gradual transition to One Fair Wage,” the One Fair Wage DC Coalition said in a statement.

Click here for D.C. Primary election results

This story has been updated Wednesday, June 20

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