About 90,000 workers will earn a higher minimum wage in DC, Montgomery, and Prince George counties in Maryland.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
It’s official. The minimum wage in D.C. will be $11.50 an hour. That’s scheduled to be in place by 2016 after Washington, D.C.’s city council increased the city minimum wage from $8.25. D.C. wasn’t alone, though, in raising their minimum wage. Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also raised their minimum wage to $11.50 an hour.
Joining us now to unpack this and the fight for a living wage is Delvone Michael. Delvone is the director of D.C. Working Families, a progressive political organization that has recently announced plans to put a $12.50 minimum wage on the November ballot.
Thanks for joining us, Delvone.
DELVONE MICHAEL, DIRECTOR, D.C. WORKING FAMILIES: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So Delvone, I know your organization Working Families Party’s—has been lobbying for a $12.50 minimum wage. What’s your response to the recent decision to increase it to $11.50?
MICHAEL: We think it’s a step in the right direction. But doesn’t go far enough. You know. If the minimum wage from 1968 had kept up with inflation and the cost of living, it’d be well over $11 in D.C. today, not five years from now. So, you know, the people in D.C. need help, and we’re coming soon with our ballot initiative to provide that help.
DESVARIEUX: Do you have a rough idea of how many workers will be affected by this decision?
MICHAEL: Regionally I think in the neighborhood of maybe 90,000 or so. But I think that’s important to keep in mind that that’s how many people are living, basically, in poverty. They’re on a treadmill, trying to keep up with the cost of living, and more and more are falling off into the ranks of the poor each day.
DESVARIEUX: According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, roughly two out of three Americans say the wage floor should be lifted, and the average wage suggested is $9.41 an hour. Can you give us a sense of the legislative terrain around raising the minimum wage going into 2014? Do you see this being a really pivotal issue? We have President Obama even talking about it.
MICHAEL: I think nationally you’ve had to look at—21 states have gotten tired of the gridlock in Congress and taken things into their own hand, including the District of Columbia, to go in and raise the minimum wage. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way things are. I definitely think in 2014 that’s going to be a huge issue going into the next elections cycle.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. And can you just speak to some anecdotes? I know you work for putting this, but I’m sure you interact with people who are living with this minimum wage. Can you just speak to some stories and of people that you know?
MICHAEL: So, you know, there are tons of people around the city that come to me all the time just saying that they basically need help. I know a single mother over in Southeast D.C. struggling to survive, working at a restaurant—named potbelly’s, of course—trying to put herself through school. And it’s very difficult. Sometimes she’s got to decide whether she’s going to actually walk to work or take public transportation, or if she’s got to, you know, eat at work to defray some of the costs of buying her own groceries. So it’s definitely difficult for people when it’s nearly impossible for them to really survive in DC. It’s one of the most expensive places in the country, yet we won’t show these people that we actually value, you know, their lives.
DESVARIEUX: Do you find it difficult to organize these groups of people?
MICHAEL: Not at all, actually. I think that many folks have stepped up to—they’re championing the cause. One thing we left out before with the minimum wage raise is that there is no relief for folks who are waiting tables and restaurants. They left them out completely and totally. The ballot initiative that we want to put on the ballot would definitely address those folks and bring them up with everyone else.
DESVARIEUX: But, Delvone, you have people saying that you’re never going to really get the wage increases you need unless people unionize. What’s your response to that?
MICHAEL: I think, well, unionizing is a very important thing. And, again, some of the low-wage people who are in the fight with us around the ballot initiative have reached down and brought more and more friends and family members to come in and to join the drive and join the race.
So it’s very important to unionize and to organize. That is indeed the only way—people power is indeed the only way we’re actually going to accomplish what we really need to do. $12.50 is just the floor, to be honest. So $11.50 [incompr.] and $12.50 should be the floor of what people deserve, not only in D.C. but across this country.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Delvone Michael, thank you so much for joining us.
MICHAEL: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.