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Dr. Aparna Jonnal, an Orange county physician, has a great essay over on Blue NC today that serves as an apt follow-up to Miriam Thompson’s fine op-ed that ran in Raleigh’s News & Observer last month. The subject: the societal imperative to combat poverty with living wages and the critical need for even those who wouldn’t benefit directly to join in the fight.

This is from Dr. Jonnal’s post:

“As a doctor, I learn about people’s lives in an intimate way. I can easily say that the greatest obstacle to health that I have seen is poverty. So many of my patients have been very poor, crushingly poor where they have to choose between basic necessities such as food and heat, where there is no chance for them to buy presents for their children, where they lie awake at night wondering if they will have a roof over their heads the next day. And most of them are working.

In fact, being a doctor has often been disappointing because I have to prescribe treatments that people cannot afford, and I have to treat symptoms of problems that have their roots in poverty. This is what led me to work on raising wages for working people, but this fight is a long, hard one. In my years of working toward economic justice, I have only seen the wage and wealth gap grow, and the conditions for low-wage workers plummet. I hear presidential hopefuls talking about the importance of raising wages and raising taxes on the wealthy but none of this will happen without many, many of us working toward these ends on our own.

This struggle should not fall solely upon the shoulders of low-wage working people. Ms. Thompson wisely writes that we all have ‘…the awesome responsibility to challenge the current economic environment.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and believe that the lion’s share of this responsibility is actually on the shoulders of those of us with higher paying jobs.”

Jonall concludes by asking folks of all income levels to become engaged in the Fight for 15 movement. Click here to learn more about that outstanding cause.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the good folks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center have prepared a nice contribution for your Thanksgiving potluck — a series of talking points to help you converse with your less-well-informed dinner companions. Enjoy!

Here are some key facts to throw out there as you pass the gravy boat and say “yes, please” to a second – or third – piece of pecan pie.

WHEN THEY SAY: “We need to attract more businesses to relocate here if we want North Carolina to grow. Cutting taxes, regulations, and unemployment insurance and not expanding Medicaid is the best way to do that.”

YOU SAY: First of all, it’s really people like you and me, consumers, who create jobs. Businesses hire when they see a demand for their products, so job creation really starts with making sure we earn a good living and feel secure enough to spend.

Even if we’re talking about where large companies choose to invest, state taxes just aren’t that big of a deal. You have to turn a profit before you pay taxes, so that’s what companies are thinking about first and foremost. Most companies look for educated workers, a good transportation system, and a place that their employees want to live before they think about taxes.

If North Carolina is going to do better, we need to focus on policies that will make everyone feel more economically secure.

WANT TO READ MORE? BTC Policy Basic: The Reality of Tax Cuts

WHEN THEY SAY: “The Carolina Comeback is real! Clearly these policies are working.”

YOU SAY: (Stage directions optional): The Carolina Comeback sounds nice but it’s not the reality for most North Carolinians and communities in our state.

First off, it’s a U.S. comeback, nothing special to North Carolina. We went into the recession as a country, and the recovery has happened nationwide. Read More

Commentary

Average working people will be raising their voices today to demand their fair share of the nation’s economic pie. As the good people at the AFL-CIO remind us:

Today is the day for the White House Summit on Worker Voice. Starting at 10:30 a.m. ET, you can watch the summit live right here. The summit is designed to bring together working people, labor leaders, advocates, employers, members of Congress, state and local officials and others to explore ways to make sure that working people are sharing in the benefits of economic growth and have access to a voice on the job.

To learn more about the summit, visit the official White House website.

Meanwhile, workers in North Carolina will gather at the state Legislative Building in Raleigh for the first “People’s Wage Board.” Here are the details:

The Fight for $15 and a union will convene a forum at the state legislature on October 7th to take testimony from workers and supporters and to call for the creation of a “People’s Wage Board” to advocate for raising wages in North Carolina.

What: Underpaid workers testify
When: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at noon
Where: NC General Assembly Building – 3rd Floor Auditorium, 16 W Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

From the Facebook event page:

Inspired by fast food workers in New York who for years organized, and took bold action that encouraged Governor Cuomo and his appointed Wage Board to recommend $15 an hour by 2020, underpaid workers in North Carolina are coming together to call on elected officials to give us a much needed raise to what we deserve: $15 an hour!

Home healthcare workers, fast food workers, child care workers, community members, and NC State Representative Yvonne Holley are putting together ‘A People’s Wage Board’ to record testimony from underpaid workers at the North Carolina Legislature.

The fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid. With industries like fast food making $200 billion a year, we know the companies we work for can afford to pay us a living wage of $15 an hour so that we have enough to care for our families.

Stand with us as we call on elected officials to do the right thing, give struggling workers a raise so that we can lift up North Carolina!

Commentary, News

The growing grassroots movement to pay American workers a living wage got a nice boost last night. The Greensboro News & Record explains:

“The minimum wage for city employees is going up.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to increase minimum wages to $10 an hour for regular and seasonal employees, except for those at the Greensboro Coliseum, and $12 an hour for employees who also receive benefits.

Councilmen Tony Wilkins and Justin Outling voted against the plan, which also sets a goal of raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 by 2020.”

You can watch TV coverage of the vote in this Fox 8 story.

Meanwhile, advocates who have been pushing for the  action for years praised the Council’s decision. This is from a statement by the good people at Working America:

“Carolyn Smith, North Carolina state director for Working America, praised the city workers for banding together and pushing the City Council to take up the issue.

‘This is a step in the right direction for Greensboro and working families,’ Smith said of the planned increase. ‘What we’ve heard from city workers is that they love Greensboro; they’re loyal to their jobs, but they struggle to take care of their families. This vote moves us closer to creating a family wage that will strengthen our community and gives businesses an incentive to follow suit.’

‘It’s great to see elected leaders standing with the women and families of Greensboro,’ Smith added.”

Let’s hope last night’s action helps spur many similar actions in the weeks  and months ahead.

Commentary
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.