Rev. Hagler: “Our Votes Cannot Just Be Simply Overturned”
In June, D.C. voters approved a measure raising tipped workers’ base wages. Four months later the D.C. Council overturned D.C. voters and repealed that initiative – Initiative 77.
In response, advocates sought to once again put the issue before voters. To force a referendum they had just one week to submit 25,000 signatures. On December 12 they submitted over 35,000. That same day a D.C. judge stopped the D.C. Board of Elections from certifying the signatures because of a procedural error – the board failed to provide adequate notice for a November meeting regarding the proposed referendum’s language.
The court’s ruling effectively doomed the referendum.
But the fight may not be over. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which funded the push for Initiative 77, said it will appeal the decision.
It’s a serious matter for a court to effectively halt a referendum, particularly one that seeks to allow the will of the people to be reflected in the law, said local attorney and activist Tony Norman. To justify this decision based on a procedural error – one made by the District government itself, and through no fault of the referendum supporters – is “an injustice,” said Norman.
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Rev. Graylan Hagler, spokesman for the Save Our Vote campaign, called out the powerful interests fighting against Initiative 77, including the Employment Policies Institute, which he called “a front” for the restaurant industry. (The New York Times reached a similar conclusion in a damning 2014 story.)
Initiative 77 – which D.C. voters approved by a 56 to 44 margin – would have brought tipped workers’ base wage in line with D.C.’s minimum wage, now $13.25 an hour. Presently, tipped workers earn a base wage of just $3.89 an hour before tips, and it’s up to employers to ensure their overall pay isn’t less than minimum wage.
But the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 to repeal Initiative 77. “Our votes cannot just simply be overturned,” Rev. Hagler told me in an interview for WPFW’s On the Ground.
Speaking to supporters and signature-gatherers the night before, Hagler said it was hypocritical for city leaders to call for D.C. statehood and voting rights while ignoring D.C. voters. “You can’t talk about Congress denying your vote… if you’re going to deny your own vote.”
Photo credit: dc.eater.com