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Time to get paid: Minimum wage legislation gains steam in NC, DC
Lawmakers renew push for $15 an hour standard
 
Published Friday, March 22, 2019 10:51 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

TOA HEFTIBA | UNSPLASH
Minimum wage bills in the North Carolina General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives would raise state and federal standards to $15 an hour, respectively over a five-year span. Low-income workers, especially in the service industries, would benefit most.

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The movement to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is gaining political momentum.


In North Carolina, House Bill 366, which was introduced Tuesday, would raise the state's minimum wage from the federal standard of $7.25 an hour to $15 per hour over the next five years and index it to inflation afterward. A similar bill will also be introduced in the Senate. Advocates say the minimum wage legislation is necessary for a strong economy and close income gaps.


In Washington, a House Committee approved H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act, which would lift the federal minimum to $15 an hour over five years and impact an estimated 40 million workers.


State lawmakers joined Raising Wages NC, a coalition of labor groups, advocates, business, and faith leaders Tuesday to announce the introduction of H.B. 366, which also ends the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities, phases it out for tipped workers, and repeals exemptions for agricultural and domestic industries. Higher wages, advocates say, would be a boon to historically marginalized communities. Almost 500,000 African American and 250,000 Latinx workers would benefit, especially with elimination of provisions that exclude service and agricultural workers like waiters, room service staff and field hands from minimum wage protections.


“This bill will undo decades of exclusions for workers like me,” said Priscilla Smith of Durham, a direct care worker and a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the Raising Wages NC Coalition. “We are taking steps to finally include all workers and make sure no one gets left behind in the fight for living wages.”


Congressional backers say putting money in the pockets of American workers would provide an economic stimulus to local businesses and communities. Several states have recently passed minimum-wage increases, including New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and California. Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington have also increased wage floors via city ordinances.


“Today is a day that was a long time in coming – I am proud that the Committee on Education and Labor approved a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024,” said U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat and chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee and the Committee on Education and Labor.

“During 20 1/2 years in the North Carolina General Assembly, I fought for our state’s minimum wage to increase to $6.15. Never would I have thought that 13 years later, Congress would have to act to raise the minimum wage from $7.25. By passing the Raise the Wage Act, we are sending the message that if you work a full-time job, you should be entitled to the dignity of a fair wage. I look forward to seeing this landmark legislation come to the floor and be approved by the full House of Representatives.”


Research suggests a minimum wage boost would be good for workers despite objections by business organizations. A report from the North Carolina Justice Center's Workers Rights Project found:


• Average wages have declined slightly, despite economic growth. In 2018, the state's median wage was down nearly $200 per year from compared to 2009.
• Almost one out every eight working families doesn't make enough to rise above the federal poverty line.


• Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour will increase income by an average $4,422 annually to 1.6 million North Carolinians—$7 billion overall.
• A quarter of all married parents and half of all single parents in the state would benefit and 765,000 children would see a raise in their families' incomes.


• The report also reviewed empirical studies on job growth and employment rates and found no difference between states which have boosted minimum wages and those that haven’t. The report found that even when employers reduced hours to offset higher labor costs, workers came out ahead from higher hourly earnings and predicted that North Carolina “businesses will directly benefit” from an expanded pool of new customers are able to spend their higher earnings on goods and services they previously couldn’t afford.


“As I always say, the economy and community cannot be successful unless everyone has an opportunity to participate,” said Eric Henry, president of TS Designs in Burlington and chair of the N.C. Business Council. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 is a good step toward achieving that goal.”

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