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The North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Council of Churches, the NC AFL-CIO, and NC MomsRising held a press conference this morning in support of restaurant workers across the country who are being undervalued and underpaid for their work. The chosen date – 2/13 – intends to draw attention to the low $2.13 sub-minimum wage for restaurant workers.

The groups noted that the restaurant industry is growing in North Carolina, with food service occupations projected to have one of the highest growth rates in the state over the next decade. Yet occupations associated with food service are among the lowest paid in the state, and offer few employment benefits including health insurance and paid sick days.

The current federal and North Carolina tipped minimum wage is just $2.13. Employers can pay workers the lowest, sub-minimum wage as long as the $2.13 wage plus tips is equal to $7.25 – the binding state and federal minimum wage – over the course of the workweek. Over time, the gap between the sub-minimum wage and minimum wage has increased, with workers currently expected to make up more than two-thirds of their hourly pay through tips.

You can read more sobering details on the oft-ignored issue by checking out this new brief from the NC Justice Center entitled “Tipping the scales toward fair wages:  The $2.13 Sub-minimum Wage Reduces the Value of Hard Workin the Food Service Industry.”

Watch video highlights of the event below:

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Last week progressives in three states passed legislation that addresses living wages, state EITC and mental health parity.

We can do itMaryland approved the first-in-the-nation living wage bill. HB430, sponsored by Del. Herman Taylor, requires state contractors to pay employees a living wage. The bill creates a two-tier system: wages in urban areas will be at least $11.30 per hour; wages in rural areas will be at least $8.50 per hour. Maryland’s minimum wage is the same as North Carolina’s, $6.15 per hour.

New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) worth 8% of the federal EITC. HB 436 introduced by Rep. Ben Lujan will help low-income working families in New Mexico.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill broadening the state’s mental health parity law. The bill, HB1460 sponsored by Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, will require health insurers to offer mental health coverage that is equitable to medical coverage to small businesses and individuals. A 2005 mental health parity law already covered employees of large companies.

News of these bills passed by other states leaves me wondering, if they can do it, why can’t North Carolina?

This session, legislators are considering HB51, which provides a 10% of the federal EITC, as well as a mental health parity bill (SB1434). These bills would go a long way to improving life for half a million North Carolina families who are struggling financially. Other states are proving that it is not too costly to provide living wages, Earned Income Tax Credits or mental health parity. We can do it too!