D.C. Set For Nation’s Highest Minimum Wage After Final Council Vote


Thanks to a unanimous final vote on Tuesday, the minimum wage in the District of Columbia will rise to $11.50 over the next three years and then float along with inflation thereafter. Unless state laws around the country change over that time, the law passed Tuesday will give D.C. the highest wage floor in the country.

The gradual $3.25 hike to the District’s current $8.25 minimum hourly rate seemed unlikely earlier this year. Major Vince Gray (D) vetoed a previous wage hike that would have applied specifically to large retailers. Walmart had threatened to cancel half of its planned D.C. stores if the bill became law, and the Council didn’t have the votes to override Gray’s veto. Gray later called for raising the city minimum to $10 an hour and suggested he’d block anything more drastic, but according to the mayor will sign the bill passed Tuesday.

Tuesday’s bill is in some ways milder than the one Walmart killed, which would have set the wage level even higher. But in an expensive city where a full-time employee earning minimum-wage now makes just $17,000 per year, the law means breathing room for struggling low-wage workers.

And the Council also passed a separate measure that expands the District’s paid sick leave law to include the restaurant industry. A pair of local business and worker coalitions, Respect DC and Paid Sick Days for All, heralded the Council votes as a victory for workers and employers alike in a press release. Four out of five restaurant workers in the city used to be excluded from the paid sick leave policy. Fixing that will save are businesses millions of dollars by reducing turnover and increasing productivity.

Those same restaurant workers are left out of the minimum wage increase. Employers will have to sign papers verifying that they are complying with a District law that requires them to pay tipped employees extra if they make less than $8.25 even after tips are factored in, but tipped worker minimum wages will stay at $2.77 per hour.

The vote moves the District closer to joining the wave of state and local minimum wage hikes that voters and local lawmakers have instituted around the country recently. Voters in SeaTac, Washington and in New Jersey approved pay hikes in November. The 2012 elections brought minimum wage boosts in Albuquerque, New Mexico and in both San Jose and Long Beach, California. Half of the Massachusetts legislature recently approved an $11 minimum wage, setting up a possible race between the Bay State and the District for which jurisdiction will have the nation’s highest wage floor.