After D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the so-called living wage bill – which only applied to big-box retailers like Wal-Mart – he and other District leaders vowed to look into raising the minimum wage for all workers.
The question is: how much?
On Friday morning, a few dozen protesters rallied in Freedom Plaza, demanding that the D.C. Council pass legislation to mandate paid sick days for all workers and raise the District's minimum wage by more than $4.00 an hour.
The current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. By law, it is a dollar more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Legislation is pending on Capitol Hill that would increase the latter to at least $10.00 an hour and it has been endorsed by President Obama. But it is very unlikely to gain much momentum in the current Congress.
Rally organizer Monica Kamen said, “We really think that even $12.50 [an hour] is not enough to survive here in D.C. so we'd like to see it go as high as possible.”
Meanwhile, inside the Wilson Building, council members have proposed competing legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10.25, $11.50 or $12.50 an hour.
“Now is the time,” said John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Local 25. “There is public support for this. There is a need among those who are living and working in the city. It's the right thing to do and that's what the voters are going to say.”
But Mayor Vincent Gray is pumping the brakes. He said he wants to study the issue and consult academics, the business community and other major cities like San Francisco that recently hiked wages to see how this might impact local economic development and job growth.
“We want to use that kind of information so that we really have a research-based approach to this,” Gray said. “I don't want to have a rush to judgement, make a reckless decision when we're really trying to do good here.”
Gray appeared at a job application and training program – sponsored by Marriot and Goodwill on Friday. Workers at the event said it is nearly impossible to live in D.C. on the current minimum wage, especially if you have children.
“It's terrible. It's a struggle. It's really a struggle,” said Lynneace Gray.
“If we could just get something done about it, it would be the best time to do it right now,” said Nathan Quigley.
Council member Jim Graham said he supports the $12.50 an hour proposal, but he is pessimistic about any wage increase becoming law after the demise of the living wage bill which only applied to big box stores.
“We were dissuaded from passing that because we lacked a couple of votes so we could take on a much harder task and expand this throughout the entire city,” Graham said. “And so I'm very fearful we're going to end up at the end of this entire process with nothing to show for it.”