D.C. fight over wages continues, Council proposals seek to raise minimum wage

DC Council Chairman Gray speaksThe prolonged debate over minimum wage in the nation’s capital continues to rage.

Last month, Mayor Vincent Gray rejected the ‘living wage’ bill that would have mandated Wal-Mart and other sizable retailers to pay their employees higher than the District’s current hourly minimum of $8.25. Yesterday, however, this fight was revived when four different wage proposals ranging from $10.55 to $12.50 were presented at a joint hearing to the D.C. Council committees. The four plans advocate for substantial pay increases that would not only benefit all workers within the city, but establish the highest minimum wage in the nation.

For District leaders, the most problematic aspect of this minimum wage debate is how to strike a balance between maintaining a progressive, pro-labor identity and spurring substantial economic development. The situation is indicative of the existing problems the nation faces as a whole with respect to government involvement in addressing the issue of stagnating wages that keep lower-income workers barely above the poverty line. Today, D.C.’s minimum wage is only $1.00 above the federal minimum, which is especially disconcerting since the federal rate has not kept proper pace with inflation.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, who is both the creator of the $12.50 proposal and in charge of the wage compromise, stated in an interview that his proposition would successfully provide for two people to make $52,000 a year, enough “to buy a house in the District of Columbia and not be on food stamps”. He also believes it is necessary to have “a government that exhibits some kind of compassion that provides for people to have a better quality of life”.

The Gray administration is requesting a four-month academic study of the city’s minimum wage to see whether an increase might actually harm lower-wage workers by pushing them into higher income brackets as well as deter large retailers like Wal-Mart from creating thousands of much-needed jobs within the District.

Despite some hesitancy on the part of District leaders, over a dozen businesses in D.C. have voluntarily agreed to raise their minimum wages. These raises would be aligned with a plan formulated by council member Thomas Well to boost the minimum to $10.25 over the course of the next two years. Brandon Skall, co-founder of the D.C. Brau brewery, is one of the business owners partaking in this agreement: “We read about it and thought it made sense. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Photo: dcdailyphotos via Flickr

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