One way or another, a $15 minimum wage in the nation’s capital looks likely by 2020. It could come in a referendum on the District’s November ballot, or through legislation from Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser now before the D.C. Council.

The unresolved debate, which intensified Thursday at the Council, is over D.C.’s tipped-minimum wage — the baseline rate employers pay servers before they receive their tips. The mayor’s bill would move it from $2.77 to $7.50 by 2022, and some worker advocates want it abolished altogether. At the same time, that idea horrifies many businesses and current tipped workers, among more than 150 witnesses on all sides of the issue at a hearing of the Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee.

Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, said raising the tipped wage would “harm the people it may be intended to help” by burdening businesses. Moreover, she argued that the initiative seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, given that all employees are already entitled to the minimum wage and their employers are supposed to ensure they receive that rate regardless of their tips.

One comeback from witnesses was that some businesses fail to do this, although their evidence was anecdotal.

Some of the other cases against the tipped wage had to do with gender and race. The Washington City Paper reported Wednesday on a new study from the National Women’s Law Center, which found that “the lower minimum wage for tipped workers in general leaves women behind, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor.”

“Twenty-two percent of female tipped workers in the District live in poverty, according to the report—’double the rate for men tipped workers (11 percent), and more than twice the rate for working women and men overall,’ 9.3 and 6.8 percent, in turn,” the paper reported. The same study found that workers of color would most benefit from the $15 minimum wage.

In a statement late Thursday, Bowser said, “We are glad there is consensus around a $15 minimum wage and welcome the ongoing conversation on how best to support our workers, while creating an environment where businesses can start, grow, and thrive.”

She also established “the Working Group on Jobs, Wages, and Benefits,” which will now spend six months drafting recommendations for the mayor and lawmakers.

“Those recommendations will focus on legislative, programmatic, and policy ways to improve the District’s regional competitiveness, attract and retain businesses and workers, protect and promote commercial diversity, and create and preserve good paying jobs,” according to Bowser’s office. “The working group will include three representatives each from the business community, labor unions, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the public.”

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