In last week’s dead-tree edition, I wrote about N.C. labor activists’ #wageweek campaign
, an effort to pressure policymakers and businesses alike to boost paychecks for those at the bottommost rungs of the socioeconomic ladder to something approaching living wage, and praising companies that have done so on their own.
As it turns out, while the General Assembly proscribes cities from raising their minimum wages above the $7.25/hour federal rate or forcing their contractors to pay living wages, eight cities and counties around the state have taken the steps available to them: ensuring that all their employees earn a living wage, for instance, or setting up a living-wage certification program to encourage businesses to pay their workers better.
Raleigh is not one of them. In fact, both activists and City Council members say it’s never even come up for discussion.
While reporting that story, I put in a records request for all of the city’s 3,695 full-time employees who earn less than $15 an hour—an arbitrary threshold, to be sure, but one labor groups have targeted in recent campaigns
. (According to a report last year from the NC Budget & Tax Center, a liberal-leaning group, an actual living wage for a two-person family (that’s one adult and one child) in Wake County is $40,859, or $19.64 an hour; for a family of four, that shoots up to $60,177, or $28.93. So my $15/hour cutoff is fairly conservative.)
Late Friday afternoon, the city sent me a spreadsheet with 485 names on it—more than 13 percent of the city’s workforce.
But that number is misleading, and here’s why: Many of the city’s firefighters are technically
paid less than $15 an hour, but because of the way they’re scheduled—48 hours on, 72 hours off, meaning they rack up the hours—they earn more than $31,200, which is $15/hour spread out over 52 weeks. Even senior firefighters can be paid around $14.95 an hour but earn more than $43,000 a year.
If you strike them from the list, you’re left with 316 city employees—almost 9 percent of the city’s workforce. Of these, the lowest-paid employee, a service specialist who’s been on the job since 2012 (at the city’s request, I’m not using names), is the only employee to make less than $10 an hour. The others, who all earn between $10 and $15 an hour, encompass everything from customer service reps to service techs to animal control officers to gardeners.
“The majority of the employees on the list (with the exception of Firefighters) have less than 2 years of experience with many having less than one year of experience,” communications director Damien Graham told me in an email. “These individuals are typically at the low end of a pay range.”
There are, in fact, only two job categories that average less than $31,200: PU Service Specialist ($28,790) and Service Technician ($29,260). And, Graham adds, a pay adjustment scheduled to go into effect next month will bump about 80 names off the list.
Still, that leaves more than 230 full-time government employees who do not earn a living wage. If the city wants its businesses to pay their employees better, maybe it should consider leading by example.