Tuesday, March 3, 2020

VEA Supports Raising the Minimum Wage

March 3, 2020

This session the VEA has been working with the “Raise the Wage Coalition” fighting for a $15 minimum wage in Virginia. Like much of our work this session, being part of a strategic partnership is vital to getting the best bills to pass. We have been in regular meetings with the minimum wage coalition and working with legislators to help them understand the impact this action will have on many of our school support personnel. Below is the text of a letter that the Raise the Wage coalition (including the VEA) is sending today to the conferees working on the final bill.

Raise the Wage Coalition Letter

Virginia’s minimum wage workers have not seen a raise since 2009, representing the longest stretch without an increase in history. The legislation in conference, HB 395 and SB 7, offers an opportunity to right that wrong and provide working people in the Commonwealth with fair wages for the important work they do that builds the foundation for our economy and our communities.

Everyone in Virginia working a full-time job should be paid enough to provide for their family. However, for many this is not the case. Nearly two-thirds of Virginia families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold have at least one adult who is working, yet they are paid too little to make ends meet. Virginia’s current minimum wage, set at $7.25 an hour to match the federal minimum, is the lowest in the country when accounting for the typical cost of living in our state.

Both bills share some commonalities, but there are significant differences in key areas. In this letter, we lay out our views on how those differences can be resolved to help the most workers thrive while strengthening our economy.

  • First, increases to the minimum wage need to be robust and sustained to achieve $15 an hour. We urge conferees to agree upon a path where the minimum wage in the Commonwealth is set at $15 an hour by 2025, as provided in the House bill.
  • Second, the time has come to repeal several exemptions in Virginia’s minimum wage.  The House bill makes important strides towards eliminating those provisions, many of which are rooted in Jim Crow, and we support this approach in conference.  These include eliminating exclusions for: domestic service workers (including home care workers), agricultural workers, employers with “4 or fewer employees,” and workers 16 & 17 years old.  We oppose provisions that would expand exclusions to the minimum wage laws, such as for employees in an “on-the-job” training program who would be paid only 75% of the minimum wage for 90 days and for students under 22 years old who work under 20 hours per week.
  • Finally, Virginia must reject a “regional minimum wage.” We oppose regionalism because, as currently laid out in SB 7, it would widen inequality in the Commonwealth. For example, under the current provisions of SB7, Northern Virginia would reach a $15 minimum wage by 2027 in nominal dollars. Assuming an annual inflation rate of 2.4%, Richmond and Hampton Roads likely would not see a $15 minimum wage until 2032, or even later. Southwest Virginia may not reach $15 until 2043. Black workers would be particularly likely to be left behind by its approach because only 23% of Black people in Virginia live in the area that would receive the largest minimum wage increase. Regionalism would fuel gender inequality by lifting the wages of fewer people. The majority of working people—nearly 60%—who would benefit from raising Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 statewide are women. 

We recommend that the conferees adopt an approach where the General Assembly studies and fully understands the complexities and potential pitfalls of a regional minimum wage rather than implementing an approach that would leave so many workers behind. For additional context, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Raise the Wage Act” (H.R. 582) in 2019, sponsored by Virginia’s Congressman Bobby Scott, it rejected the idea of a regional wage. That was in part because a federal regional wage would have excluded more than 15 million working people, over 40% of whom are working people of color.

In closing, we want to thank each of you for your efforts to raise the minimum wage in Virginia. As we approach the end of the session and the conference discussions related to this legislation, we look forward to continuing to work together to develop a final bill that provides economic security and opportunity to as many working Virginians as we can.