Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump paid leave plan may not be much of one

During his address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump again raised the dual issues of paid leave and child care, expressing a desire to work across the aisle on both policies. The move was intended to appeal to women lawmakers, many of whom wore white to the address in protest of his negative personal and professional track record on women’s issues.

In previous statements, Trump outlined a proposal that would stop short of actual paid family leave to cover parental leave only. Further concerning advocates was the apparent intention to cover only new biological mothers, excluding fathers, adoptive parents and others from accessing the leave.

While Trump’s language during Tuesday’s address was slightly more vague about who would be eligible under his paid parental leave plan, it’s clear that family leave — which would allow working people to take paid leave to care for other family members, or recover from serious illness — still isn’t on the table. Then there’s the issue of how we’ll pay for it; in previous versions of the proposal, Trump outlined his intent to pay for the program using already inadequate unemployment insurance funds.

The effect of excluding fathers is exceedingly problematic from a workplace equity perspective. Establishing a parental leave program that only women can access will almost certainly have negative consequences for women workers, making it less likely for women of childbearing age to rise to the top of the candidate pool, receive promotions and generally thrive in the workplace.

If President Trump really wants to improve the lot of working families via a paid leave policy, there’s already a bill in Congress that would do that. It’s called the Family & Medical Leave Act, and it’s broadly supported by most of the women lawmakers he’s so eager to work with. Perhaps he should start there.

Commentary

As #WageWeek winds down, local efforts stand out

This piece was written by Workers’ Rights Project volunteer Jhari Derr-Hill.

This #WageWeek marks nine years since the last time the federal government voted to raise the minimum wage. Much of the country is just waking up to the fact that it is untenable to expect anyone to be contented working for poverty wages, no matter their labor. Hourly wage workers have known this for too long. Dependent on jobs with irregular schedules and often no form of medical care, retail, food service, hospitality and home care workers are bound to a system that saps most of their time and energy in exchange for pay that won’t cover necessities.

The demand for a higher minimum wage, often in the form of protests led by organizations like Raise Up for $15, is a demand to be seen, to be recognized as valuable participants in the economy, producers without whom a lot less would get done.

North Carolina is home to a burgeoning movement of diverse organizations working to raise wages through any available avenue. One such group is Working North Carolina, whose mission is to build a labor movement among non-union workers.

On June 14, Working North Carolina coordinated a march and rally for pay equity for women. Participants were encouraged to publicize the event on social media using #Stand4Women.

“You can no longer say reproductive justice and economic issues are separate”, Working North Carolina Director Carolyn Smith said. “The same people who have low wages are the same ones who don’t have quality health care…[who] rely on government assistance and places like Planned Parenthood.”

Grassroots organizations aren’t the only groups pushing for better wages, though. A growing number of local governments throughout the state are opting to provide a living wage to their own employees. Local leaders in places like Greensboro, Asheville, Durham, Greenville and Wake County have adopted local living wage ordinances that set a living wage floor for their own employees.

Just last month the governing board of Canton, NC unanimously decided to make the town living wage certified. Canton is one of the latest among hundreds of governments and businesses certified through Just Economics, an organization that advocates for fair wages through education and community outreach in Western North Carolina.

Becoming living wage certified sets businesses apart. Employers who provide a living wage see less absenteeism and turnover in their companies, and also find that it generally boosts wellness among employees.

In addition to pay, Just Economics also focuses on those aspects of life indirectly affected by or attributable to one’s economic status. As Just Economics community organizer Amy Cantrell contends, poverty is isolating, which is why the organization brings together people living in low-wealth neighborhoods for workshops and public forums where they learn ways to bring economic justice home.

The fight for living wages to become the norm is a long one. Given that roughly four out of every five new jobs created in NC since 2009 pay poverty wages, it’s clear that North Carolina organizations pushing for better pay have their work cut out for them. As #WageWeek comes to a close this year, however, low-wage workers and advocates should feel encouraged by the many private businesses and local governments that are responding to the moral imperative to be stewards of their communities (and their local economies) by offering a living wage their employees.

Commentary

#WageWeek interview: Foundation

vince whitehurst - foundation

Vincent Whitehurst (photo by Ana Pardo).

As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of small business owners who have increased the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the third in that series, and represents an interview with business owner Vincent Whitehurst.

Whitehurst and his partner Will Alphin co-own Foundation, a craft cocktail bar in downtown Raleigh. Foundation opened more than six years ago, and offers starting wages of $3.50-$5.50/hour for tipped employees. The current minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13/hour.

When did you make the decision to set your wage floor above minimum?

We made the decision prior to even opening. We’ve been paying above minimum wage since the day we opened, and we’ve never reconsidered it. We wanted to attract good people and have an edge up, essentially. We never thought we’d try to just pay the minimum. We made the decision based on trying to get and retain good people, and show people that we intended to do better than the competition. It was also because we were both coming from different industries [architecture] where you don’t typically pay the minimum wage. We thought “you know, we don’t want to pay the minimum wage…that’s just too low”.

What values were behind the decision?

People here make most of their money on tips, and the people here that are working full-time are making well above the minimum wage when you factor in tips. We have low turnover; we have one guy who’s been here since we opened the bar, and that speaks to our commitment to keeping our employees around. From a values standpoint, we just appreciate good people. It’s not just about the money, either—it’s also the community. The people here, they call this a family. These guys feel like this is their group. It’s who they hang out with, who they go to dinner with when they’re not working. It’s the way we manage the business. We give people a lot of freedoms here. I think employees also consider that.

How does a higher wage floor impact your business?

If you have good people working for you, and decide up front that you’re going to pay them better, then it comes back around. You end up […] with people who understand service, who make people feel good, who know how to talk to people. You’re keeping them there, so you’re training them long-term. I think a lot of places think “oh, it’s just a server, they can just serve anywhere”. Here, everybody’s committed to learning these products, and sometimes it takes a few years. It’s a long-term vision; you train somebody and over time it’s going to help the business.

This interview has been edited for length.

Commentary

#WageWeek interview: Boulted Bread

fulton forde - boulted bread

Fulton Forde (photo by Ana Pardo).

As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of local business leaders who are raising the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the second in that series, and represents an interview with bakery owner Fulton Forde.

Forde and his partners Sam Kirkpatrick and Josh Bellamy own Boulted Bread, a small, 9-employee bakery in South Raleigh which opened a formal store front a year ago this week. The wage floor for Boulted Bread employees has been set at $10.50/hr since the business began.

Q: How did you make the decision to set your wage floor above the minimum?

A: We made the decision with our first hire, Meg. We talked a lot about a living wage, and it’s something I always had on my mind. Morality is a big part of the business – be it from sourcing, or process, every part – so we wanted the way we treat our employees to be in line with the products that we’re trying to sell. Coming up with a wage floor significantly over minimum was [important to] fitting the moral structure of the business.

Q: What benefits do you see as a business owner from having a higher base wage?

A: We want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the business, not just an employee. When the business benefits, we want [our employees] to benefit. So everyone who works here sees that we’re a little busier every week, and everyone’s wage is going up. We also want everyone to see that this is more than a job you have for a few months or a year. We’re here every day and we’re doing the same things. It’s simple work, but for us it’s tied to a whole lifestyle that we want and the morals of the business. Even in our first year we’ve been sure to take a couple of weeks off, and we’re moving forward with benefits in general. We want people to feel involved, receive the benefit of the [success of] the business and feel like this can be a long-term opportunity for them. We don’t have anyone who looks like they’re going to be, you know, escaping. When you start people off with that reciprocal respect, they’re willing to do more, and it’s easier to pay them more from there, because they have more responsibilities all the time. It leads to everyone representing the business well when they’re here, and when they’re not here, and ultimately greater success for everyone.

Q: How do you see your higher wage floor impacting your business in the long-run?

A: We started off having three owners, and we’re all really heavily involved. It’s all about dispersing the responsibility. That’s definitely one of our end-goals, having responsible employees who are capable of taking on some of the burden [of running the business]. There are so many people that I see really struggling, that really have a super-difficult life. Our employees are not; we’ve really taken steps to make [working here] livable. In the future, we plan to continue to increase pay, and we’re also working on some benefits like paid time off, simple IRA matching, possibly health insurance.

I think every business owner needs more free time even at their own business to create new things or research their product or service and see how they can make it better. So even if you’re addicted to work and want to be at work all the time, free time at work is really powerful, and can easily turn into more profitability if that’s what you’re after. We still work a lot, but now we have more time to really investigate things like better sourcing, better products. It wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have employees who we trusted, who worked hard and were rewarded.

This interview has been edited for length.

Commentary

#WageWeek interview: Empire Properties and Empire Eats

greg hatem - empire

Greg Hatem (photo by Ana Pardo).

As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of local business leaders who are raising the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the first in the series, and represents an interview with Greg Hatem, owner of Empire Properties and Empire Eats in downtown Raleigh. Hatem worked with his staff over the past year to raise the wage floor to $10.15 for all 550 employees across his companies.

Q: When did Empire decide to prioritize raising the wage floor?

A: “Creating a long-term relationship with our employees has always been important. About 8 months ago we committed to getting it done within a year. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t just because of financial issues. We had legacy employees, where when we started looking we realized someone had a wage because of when they were hired, and then you’re bringing somebody else on at a different wage. So we had to slowly equilibrate that and make sure that we bring new people on at a good salary. We did it position-by-position and restaurant-by-restaurant, and we finished it up last month.”

Q: What were the underpinning values behind the company’s decision?

A: “It’s not just about work or a job, it’s about people and culture. What we value most are people that believe in the mission and the culture, and we want to make sure there’s a relationship. It’s not just an employer-employee relationship; we have people trying to help us create our vision, and in return we have a responsibility to help them create their vision and take care of their families. So it’s very symbiotic.”

“It was something we believed was possible if we had time enough to plan for it. That’s why we gave ourselves a 12-month window to do it strategically. Our belief is we end up working with folks that are more productive, who are happier, their life situation is better. What you’re really doing is investing in your people, and that has a return in itself. It’s just smart business to take care of the people around you, because that is the core of your business. If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your guests. It’s not an expense, it’s an investment.”

Q: What was the reaction from your employees when they learned of the changes?

A: “We had a huge response from [employees] when we did it, because they knew we cared. I actually had one of the guys in the kitchen give me a hug because it meant that much to him. We have so many people that have been with us for 3, 5, 10 years. We’re there for each other.”

Q: What advice would you give to other business owners considering a similar move?

“Invest in your people. Invest in them in the day-to-day […] and help them become better at their job. When you do that, you create a better environment for your guests, and that’s the virtuous cycle.”

This interview has been edited for brevity.