D.C.’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Revenue called for the passage of new minimum wage and sick leave legislature Monday.
The committee, co-chaired by D.C. Councilmembers Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), convened for a panel-style event that attracted an audience of about 100.
“It’s time to come together, leave no one behind, give everybody the opportunity to not only be a part of one city, but also to be a part of one dream, one future,” Orange said.
Evans, who played an integral role in the last major minimum wage debate a decade ago, encouraged attendees to consider the effects of a minimum wage increase on both employee living conditions and business owners’ decisions to move their companies to or from D.C.
“The best approach, as I see it, would be if the federal government and Congress would move forward and raise the minimum wage nationwide,” Evans said, adding that gridlock in Congress has forced the issue to become a local one.
Orange said that an increase of the minimum wage beyond the current $8.25 an hour is essential to the success of low-income workers.
“Anyone who gets up every day and goes to work and works extremely hard should have the opportunity to have access to affordable housing, access to healthcare, to be able to ensure that their children get a good education, and it all starts with a good wage so [they] can pay their bills,” he said.
Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) said that it is important to keep promises to support the working poor, stating that D.C.’s minimum wage has not kept pace with the dramatic increase in living costs in the city in the past decade.
“As a government, I don’t think we’ve done all that we can to ensure that we are not building up a city where only the wealthy can live,” Grosso said.
Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) expressed disappointment in Mayor Vincent Gray’s veto of the Large Retailer Accountability Act in September, which would have required large retailers to pay employees at least $12.50 an hour.
“We want people working, and we want to invest in people. But we want jobs that pay a living wage and that makes self-sufficiency economically viable at the end of all the supports and training programs,” he said. “So that’s my commitment today to work with my colleagues to ensure that we come out of this with something much better than the bill we rejected.”
D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Ed Lazere agreed that increased worker compensation and benefits would benefit workers without harming the economy.
“Some will argue that the District cannot make the changes we’re talking about today without putting our economy at risk, yet the bulk of the research on both the minimum wage and paid sick leave suggests that we can in fact help D.C. workers without harming D.C.’s economy,” he said.