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State demonstrates need for minimum wage increase

US Minimum Wage-1

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers rally in front of a McDonald's in Albany, N.Y., in 2017. North Carolina's legislature has raised the minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

On Sunday, when the state budget kicked into a new fiscal year, many employees across state government will get a nice boost to their paychecks: Their hourly wage will be elevated to $15, with the State Highway Patrol getting a little more.

Legislators added this adjustment last month in their now-infamous, closed-door, one-party, no-discussion, take-it-or-leave-it adjusted biennial spending plan of nearly $24 billion. That budget passed along party lines and was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, who had other budget priorities. As has become de rigueur in Raleigh, the Republican supermajority vetoed his veto.

Estimates are that this wage change will affect some 8,000 employees, or about 12 percent of the state’s workforce. North Carolina is the first state in the union to reach $15 an hour. New York has passed a measure to do so, too, but that will be implemented in the next few years.

Adjusting the pay scale for government employees to a livable wage is an appropriate and noble act. But why have legislators consistently opposed this for the workforce in general? What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander?

North Carolina matches the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, one of 17 states at that level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were, as of Jan. 1, about 52,000 North Carolinians who made less than that, largely because of the scale allowed for restaurant servers who earn tips.

And apparently that’s the way legislators believe the system should remain — that free-market decisions should manifest the wage structure.

“The state of North Carolina is the employer, and we are voluntarily raising the salaries,” state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said in a newspaper interview. “Private employers have the option of doing the same.”

But the General Assembly not only has avoided raising the minimum wage — at least some legislators cited pressure on the agricultural industry, where increased minimums could affect food prices — but has in fact legislated against that concept.

Controversial House Bill 2, which became known by its specifications for public restrooms, included a clause that forbade local ordinances that regulate or impose “any requirement upon an employer pertaining to compensation of employees, such as the wage levels or employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, benefits, leave or well-being of minors in the workforce.”

That included contracts let by governments, which sometimes required specific wage levels.

So now the General Assembly has passed a law that will allow the state to have a favorable position in competing for employees in a very tight labor market. There are statutes that prevent the state from competing with private industry.

But who would want to challenge such an appropriate concept simply to underscore that conflict?

“People are going to draw their own conclusions,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Eden, told WRAL last month. “I would just say that what we are trying to do is manage the resources of the state of North Carolina in a prudent manner. Sometimes what that means is you need to pay your people more. Sometimes it just makes sense.”

Yes, we agree. Raising the minimum wage makes sense for all workers in North Carolina.

The News & Record of Greensboro

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