By C.N. Staff Writer
D.C. has one of the wealthiest populations in America right now, but there is also a wealth disparity between the haves and have-nots in the city. At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange wants to help fix the gap between the city’s wealthiest residents and those living in poverty. As chair of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, he has pushed hard to reach a consensus about raising the minimum wage. Currently set at $8.25 an hour, D.C. pays just a dollar above the national minimum wage. In a vote before the Thanksgiving holiday, the committee voted to pass the bill that would raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by July 2016.
The minimum wage bill has been heavily debated over the summer and into the fall. Orange was a lead sponsor of a bill that would have forced Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay their employees a “living wage” of at least $12.50. The council approved that bill, but Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed it, calling it a “job killer” after Wal-Mart said it would abandon plans to build three of six proposed stores in the city.
Under the bill, the District’s minimum wage would increase to $9.50 on Jan. 1, $10.50 in July 2015 and $11.50 in July 2016, with future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index to keep up with inflation. Similar bills in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties appear to have broad support.
Committee members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), David Grosso (I-At Large), did not pass key amendments that would allow restaurant and bar owners to pay a higher base rate. Mayor Gray has shown opposition to the $11.50 per hour rate, instead stating that he backs a $10.00 minimum wage. He said the council has no economic basis for the bill’s proposal.
The bill does not include a base wage increase for tipped workers, who currently earn $2.77 per hour. It does include language, however, requiring restaurant owners to certify that those employees are making at least as much as the District’s minimum wage in base salary and tips.
Currently tipped workers (restaurants or bars) are exempt from the 2008 law, which requires employees receive paid sick leave. The bill has a clause that will provide paid sick leave to tipped employees also unanimously passed the six-member committee led by Councilman Vincent Councilwoman Mary Cheh, , introduced an amendment that would have increased the base wage for tipped employees incrementally during the next three years, bringing it up to 50 percent of the overall minimum wage by 2016.Orange, (D-At Large).
“I don’t want these side amendments to get us off track,” Orange said regarding Cheh’s amendment. “At this point, if we continue with what has been put forth by this committee, we will have nine votes [in the full council]. We do not have those votes for the amendment that you have put forth.”
On December 3rd the full council will vote on the bill.