D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday that he might ask the D.C. Council to raise the city’s minimum wage, even if President Obama is unsuccessful in getting Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.
Under District law, employers in the city must pay their employees at least $1 more an hour than the federal wage, currently $7.25. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama said he will ask Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, which would result in a $10 minimum wage for the District.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Gray (D) endorsed Obama’s proposal, saying he understands how tough it can be to live in the District making less than $10 an hour.
“From a workers’ perspective, it’s a good thing,” Gray said as he toured Union Kitchen, a culinary incubator in NoMa that provides commercial kitchen space for start-up restaurants and chefs. “If you work 2008 hours each year, that still only puts you at $20,000 a year, which is very challenging economically.”
Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, also endorsed Obama’s proposal. She said many minimum wage workers in the District find it “difficult in this environment, particularly with this economic crisis,” to live on the city’s current minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.
But with a GOP-controlled House of Representatives, Gray acknowledged that Obama’s proposal could face a difficult fight on Capitol Hill. When asked whether he’d consider untying the city’s minimum wage to the federal rate, Gray said he’s open to the idea.
“We might,” Gray said. “We’ll consider that.”
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, said the council would seriously consider any proposal Gray made about the city’s minimum wage.
But Evans cautioned that a D.C. increase without a federal increase “may not be in the best interest of the city” because of the District’s “unique position” as the host of many federal agencies and contractors.
“We’ll look into it, but it is important for the District to be near, or within a $1 of, where the federal government is,” Evans said. “We’ve done studies about this in the past, and there is a reason why we are where we are.”
Though the District’s minimum wage is automatically $1 higher than the federal limit, the city also has a “living wage” law that requires large city contractors to pay their employees at least $11.75 an hour.
Last month, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) proposed a bill that would require large retailers with stores of at least 75,000 square feet, such as Walmart and Safeway, to also pay their employees the living wage rate.
That bill could come up for a vote later this year, but is expected to face opposition from some business groups.