The Washington Council unanimously approved a plan to ratchet up the city's hourly minimum wage to $15 on Tuesday, and Mayor Muriel Bowser pledged to sign the measure into law, likely lifting low-income pay rates in the District of Columbia to among the highest in the nation within four years.
The vote marked a victory for local and national unions, which targeted the nation's capital more than a year ago for a symbolic victory in the "Fight for $15" campaign.
A final vote is required later this month, but that appeared to be a formality.
The District's hourly minimum, now $10.50, would rise to $15 by 2020. After that, annual increases would be automatic and tied to inflation, as unions have wanted. But to assuage the District's powerful restaurant-industry lobby, D.C. lawmakers have demanded that tipped workers' pay rise by a smaller amount.
Tipped workers' base rate would increase from $2.77 an hour to $5 an hour and would be tied to inflation. Employers in the District would also remain responsible for paying employees the difference between their base pay and minimum wage if tips do not make up the balance.
For comparison, the measure that labor groups had been preparing for the November ballot would have required employers to pay everyone $15 an hour, including waiters and others who earn most of their pay through tips. A similar wage structure is in place in San Francisco, and the setup is closer to that of New York, which will move to a base rate of $10 plus tips for restaurant servers by 2022.
Labor leaders emerged from a meeting Monday evening divided over the decision to abandon the ballot-measure fight.
Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International 32BJ, said in an interview that he was comfortable with $5 an hour for tipped workers, because employers would still be required to make up the difference for employees to earn $15 an hour. He also said most workers would automatically get $15 an hour.
Contreras credited Bowser and the D.C. Council for "pushing one of the nation's highest minimum wages to help dig men and women out of poverty." Leaders of the Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers also said they backed the plan.
But representatives of the Restaurant Opportunities Center said they were not ready to abandon the goal of a $15 minimum for restaurant workers.
Kennard Ray, a spokesman for the group, said he was disappointed that D.C. lawmakers had "chosen again to leverage some low-wage workers against others" to make a deal on minimum-wage law.
Ray said the ROC planned to demand $15 an hour, but it was not immediately clear whether the advocacy group possessed enough signatures to press forward separately with the November ballot measure.
Advocacy work for that ballot measure had been underway for almost a year when Bowser proposed a version of a $15 minimum wage in March. On the D.C. Council, labor-friendly lawmakers, including Democrat Vincent B. Orange, who faces reelection this month, picked up the measure and have pushed it through to a vote.