Commentary, News

The fight for $15 arrives at the General Assembly

[Cross-posted from the website of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.]

North Carolina lawmakers joined Raising Wages NC — a growing coalition of labor groups, advocates, business, and faith leaders — at a legislative press conference today to announce the introduction of H.B. 366, inclusive legislation that raises the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2024, indexes it to the cost of living, ends the subminimum wage for persons with disabilities, phases it out for tipped workers, and repeals exemptions for agricultural and domestic workers.

North Carolina’s minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for a decade and does not cover everyone. At the event, legislators, workers, business owners, and faith leaders called attention to the moral and economic imperative of making sure that everyone who works full time can earn a living wage, afford the basic necessities, and has a fair opportunity to work hard and succeed — including people with disabilities, people who care for our homes and families, people who serve our food, and the people who grow it.

“This bill will undo decades of exclusions for workers like me,” said Priscilla Smith of Durham, a direct care worker and a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the Raising Wages NC Coalition. “We are taking steps to finally include all workers and make sure no one gets left behind in the fight for living wages.”

According to a report released today by the nonpartisan NC Justice Center, gradually raising the minimum wage in North Carolina to $15 an hour by 2024 “would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.” Moreover, the report’s authors reviewed empirical studies on job growth and employment rates and found no difference between states which have enacted minimum wage increases and those that have not. Even in cases where employers reduced hours to offset higher labor costs, the report finds that workers still came out ahead from higher hourly earnings and predicted that North Carolina “businesses will directly benefit” when 1.6 million new customers are able to spend those higher earnings on their goods and services.

“As I always say, the economy and community cannot be successful unless everyone has an opportunity to participate,” said Eric Henry, president of TS Designs in Burlington and chair of the N.C. Business Council. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 is a good step toward achieving that goal.”

Reps. Susan Fisher, Jean Farmer-Butterfield, MaryAnn Black, and Pricey Harrison are primary sponsors of H.B. 366. In addition to lawmakers, speakers at the press conference included Rev. Jennifer Copeland, NC Council of Churches; Wendy’s worker Earl Bradley and Waffle House waitress Eshawney Gaston, Raise Up for $15 and a Union; direct care worker Priscilla Smith, National Domestic Workers Alliance We Dream in Black NC Chapter; TS Designs president Eric Henry, NC Business Council; and Ana Pardo, NC Justice Center Workers’ Rights Project.

For more information about the campaign, visit www.raisingwagesnc.org.

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