WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington, D.C. residents on Tuesday are voting on a proposal that would more than quadruple the minimum wage for tipped workers, including servers, bartenders and hairstylists, to $15 an hour, matching that of other workers in the U.S. capital.
The measure is the latest effort to raise pay for low-income workers across the United States through the "Fight for $15" campaign, which contends that service-industry workers have been left behind economically in recent years.
Voters in the District of Columbia last year approved a measure to lift the minimum wage to $15 per hour beginning in 2020, up from $12.50 currently - higher than the current minimum wage in any U.S. state.
Last year's measure raised tipped workers' minimum pay to $5 from its current $3.33, though employers in the city are already legally required to pay the current $12.50 hourly wage to workers who do not receive enough in tips to reach that rate.
"This is a system that basically left behind certain workers," said Brittany Alston, a policy analyst for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which backs the measure.
Critics of the initiative, which would take effect in 2026 if it passes, say it would cause workers to make less money by reducing tips, while forcing restaurants and bars to raise prices, lay off employees or close.
"We are confident that if this ballot measure passes that the overwhelming majority of tipped employees in the District will take home less pay," said Solomon Keene, the president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.
Keene said in a phone interview that restaurants would likely have to pass the cost of increased salaries on to diners, which would leave them with less money for gratuities.
The mayor and most members of the district council have voiced their opposition to the initiative.
The measure's advocates, which include a broad coalition of labor and progressive groups, say tipped workers are more likely than other workers to live in poverty within a rapidly gentrifying region.
States that have raised wages for tipped workers, like Washington state and California, have not seen more restaurants close or costs become prohibitively high for diners, advocates of the measure added.
If the initiative passes, it will make Washington, D.C.'s tipped workers the highest paid in the country. Tipped workers in Washington state currently earn a minimum of $11.50 per hour and a minimum of $10.50 in California.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Scott Malone and G Crosse)