Nation & World

Talking minimum wage at lunch time

Customers and workers inside a salad shop bustling in the mid-afternoon lunch hour today got a taste of politics along with their servings of locally grown mesclun, kale, arugula and tomatoes.

Rep, George Miller, D-Calif., and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez met with workers in the kitchen at the Sweetgreen restaurant in the capital’s Dupont Circle neighborhood to discuss their pay, which starting at $8.50 an hour currently sits more than a dollar above the federally mandated hourly minimum wage of $7.25.

Afterwards, Miller, Perez and the two Sweetgreen proprietors spoke with a crowd of reporters and interested patrons about Miller’s bill to raise the federal hourly minimum to $10.10 in three increments over more than two years.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund made recommendations today that the U.S. increase the minimum wage, based on historical and international standards.

Echoing President Barack Obama’s talking points in his 2014 State of Union address, Perez called on Congress to “give America a raise,” citing Sweetgreen, along with several other companies, including Costco and Ace Hardware, that already pay their employees above the minimum wage.

“Across the board we’ve seen employers understanding that if you treat your workers well, it’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” he said.

Jonathan Neman, co-owner of the Sweetgreen location, said his employees average more than $10 per hour, and the company in planning to increase their starting salaries next year.

“I think employees feel great to know that we support them and want them to have a comfortable life, and paying them a fair wage is one part of it,” said Nicolas Jammet, also a co-owner. “We want them to be happy when they come to work every day.”

The U.S. has not raised the minimum wage since it went from $5.15 in 2007 to $7.25 in 2009 under another incremental raise passed by Democrats in both the House and Senate. However, 22 states have passed minimum wage laws higher than the federal standards.

Miller said that state and local lawmakers “are sending a signal, certainly to the Republican caucus… you’re out of step with the needs of the economy, you’re out of step with the needs of local communities to build a more vibrant economy.”

A bill to raise the federal minimum wage has sat bottled up inside a House committee for more than a year. But Miller said he has received enough interest from Republicans to get a vote on a measure that would progressively raise the wage to $10.10 per hour over more than two years.

A motion to transfer the bill from committee to the House floor has been signed by 195 Democrats since it was filed on Feb. 26, and needs 23 more signatures to pass.

Following Obama’s State of Union address, in which the president made raising the minimum wage one of his key proposals, Speaker John Boehner rallied against proposals in the House to raise the minimum wage, calling such measures would kill jobs.

A report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released in February said increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost the economy 500,000 jobs by 2016, while increased wages for low-income workers would total $31 billion. The CBO report stated the rise in the minimum wage would account for a net $2 billion rise in real income across all workers.

H.R. 1010 -- sponsored by Miller in conjunction with a similar Senate bill from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa – would increase the minimum wage in three steps: $8.20 per hour, $9.15 per hour, $10.10 per hour. Starting three years after the bill’s passage, the wage would be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index.

In addition to its recommendation to increase the minimum wage, the IMF’s report reduced projected growth in the U.S. economy to 2 percent in 2014, down from its 2.7 percent projection released last year.