DC waiters opposing union in fight against $15 minimum wage for them

Minimum wage legislation rarely helps the people it supposedly targets for raises.  It does help labor unions that have contracts specifying hourly wage rates that are a certain amount higher than minimum wage.  Rarely are the people harmed by minimum wages able to fight back.  Bill McMorris reports in the Free Beacon on a rare instance of backlash against the exploitation workers face from union bosses.

In October the D.C. City Council voted 8-5 to overturn a ballot initiative that would have forced a $15 hourly wage upon tipped workers despite outcry from the waiters it was supposed to help.  Labor activists from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a worker center launched by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, and other groups are trying to gather nearly 25,000 signatures to force the Democratically controlled council to adopt a minimum wage of $15 for all workers.  Their effort has received significant pushback from local workers.

Big Al, a bartender in Washington, D.C., said he was relieved when the City Council reneged on Ballot Initiative 77, which passed 56-44.  D.C. adopted a $15 minimum wage in 2016, but granted exemptions to workers receiving tips.  The new rules prescribed hourly minimums of $5 an hour by 2020, up from the $2.77 they received prior.  Big Al has been a waiter and bartender at the Bottom Line for more than two decades and said his earnings are far higher than the $15 an hour prescribed by the initiative.  He said the new rate would cause him to lose money.

"All of the customer's money that was going to me [through tips] will go to the [restaurant] owners," he said.

Wait staff who provide superb service often are rewarded with a big tip.  Usually, tips are pooled, removing the individual incentive for excellent service, but the collective incentive to maintain a positive work culture of service is still present.

The real danger to waiters is that the high cost of labor will encourage an even faster conversion of most restaurants to the "fast casual" format, in which customers order and pay for their food at a counter, and it is either delivered to their table or called out for pickup.  Restaurants need a lot less labor that way.  The format already has spread to a segment of the fine dining industry with the so-called "fine-casual format."

The Metro Diner Café, a fast-casual restaurant with nary a waiter to be seen.  Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.