On Tuesday, the Washington, D.C. Council unanimously voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour and to expand its current paid sick leave policy to cover tipped workers, who were originally left out.
Both bills need a final vote before they head to Mayor Vince Gray (D) for his signature. As the Washington City Paper explains, “the unanimous vote [for the minimum wage] all but guarantees that it could survive any veto attempt by Mayor Vince Gray,” who has said he supports a raise to $10 an hour. It’s currently $8.25. Under the Council’s proposal, the wage would eventually hit $11.50 in 2016 and from there on would be tied to inflation, automatically rising. Only 11 states automatically increase the minimum wage as the cost of living rises, and the federal wage isn’t tied to inflation and has been stuck at $7.25 for four years. If it had kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be over $10 an hour.
The council’s vote to expand the paid sick days policy means that the 80 percent of the city’s restaurant workers who previously didn’t have access to time off when they or their loved ones fell ill will now be covered. It has also been estimated to bring a net $2 million in savings to the area’s businesses, or $1.85 per worker per week, in reduced turnover, fewer illnesses at work, and higher productivity. Contrary to opponents who argue that the city’s paid sick days law would force businesses to move elsewhere, an audit of the current iteration found that it hasn’t encouraged them to relocate nor has it discouraged new businesses from setting up shop.
The minimum wage hike leaves tipped workers out, however. They will continue to make a base rate of $2.50 an hour. The federal tipped wage of $2.13 has remained flat for more than 20 years.
D.C. joins a growing number of cities and states that are taking it upon themselves to raise their minimum wages while federal action stalls. Voters in New Jersey increased their state wage to $8.25 and set it to rise with inflation on Election Day this year, and voters in the town of SeaTac in Washington raised theirs to $15 an hour. Voters also approved raises in Albuquerque, NM; San Jose, CA; and Long Beach, CA in the 2012 election and it could soon be increased in seven other states. President Obama also recently threw his support behind a federal increase to $10 an hour.
D.C.’s paid sick days policy is one of seven, including Jersey City, NJ; New York City; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; and the state of Connecticut.