As Virginians, we are proud of our state. We know we receive high rankings for our tourism, our natural areas, and our educational institutions. There is, however, one ranking where Virginia is at the very bottom.
According to a recent Oxfam America report, Virginia scored last on the workers’ rights index, with the report’s authors noting that Virginia lacks a minimum wage higher than the federal floor and “only a basic equal pay law among all the labor laws included within the index.”
In Virginia, there is no guarantee around accommodations for pregnancy, no mandated paid sick leave, and no legislative support for best practices in work schedules.
In January of last year, a bill was passed out of committee and was headed to the full senate. The bill would have raised the minimum hourly wage to $10, increasing to $15 by 2021. It was narrowly defeated. With only four more Democrats in office, this bill would have passed, and Virginia workers would have been closer to making a livable minimum wage instead of the $7.25 that Republicans have insisted is sufficient.
“The average worker who is making minimum wage is a woman in her mid-30’s, with one dependent,” Jennifer Lewis said. “So don’t tell me this is some high-school kid flipping burgers at McDonald’s, because it’s not true.”
After a 2019 election season that handed Democrats both houses in the General Assembly and attracted national attention, the push for a livable minimum wage is finally within reach. Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia Democrats listed raising state wage standards as part of their package of legislative priorities and advocacy groups are watching closely to hold them accountable to campaign promises.
In a news conference last week, Governor Northam said it was time for Virginia to treat its employees as well as it has treated its business owners.
“We will treat Virginia workers with dignity by raising the minimum wage,” he said. “There is no way anyone can support themselves, let alone their family on $7.25 an hour.”
Democrats have pre-filed 12 bills between the House and Senate that will address how Virginia approaches changes to its minimum wage in the coming years. Five of the bills offer steps to increase Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour up to $15 over the next three to five years.
Both D.C. and Maryland have recently passed laws to reach a $15/hour standard, with different timelines for doing so. Right here in our backyard, the University of Virginia approved a minimum of $15/hour wage for all full-time employees effective Jan. 1.
“We want to stay the number one state for business, but we also need to think about our workforce,” Sen. Tim Kaine said during a roundtable convened by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not a capitalist, I’m a human capitalist. I believe capital should serve our talent rather than vice versa.”
We are so close to passing legislation that will provide Virginia workers with a chance to make a livable minimum wage. All workers deserve the opportunity to do more than attempt to survive. These increases will put much-needed money into the hands of the lowest-paid workers who struggle with the ever-increasing costs of living.