Labor Secretary Thomas Perez visited a locally-owned Ace Hardware in the nation’s capital on Thursday morning to push for an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Perez’s tour of the shop, where all the employees earn more than the federal and D.C. minimum-wage rates, comes as President Obama traveled to Wisconsin to finish a two-day tour promoting his new agenda and laying out his plans for addressing income inequality through executive actions.
During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index the rate to inflation.
The hardware store, located in the Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood, pays its employees at least $10 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, while the D.C. rate is $8.25.
Perez described the shop’s owner, Gina Schaefer, as a “remarkably visionary business owner,” saying she understands that “paying folks a fair wage is the essence of growing a business.” He added that higher wages help companies in the long run and put more money into the hands of workers who spend it in the local economy.
Christina Amaya, a 23-year-old manager at the store, said higher pay encourages workers to provide better customer service. “If you keep your employees happy, you end up keeping your customers happy in the same way,” she said.
Amaya added that she has stuck with her job for five years, in part because of the wages. “It just seemed so reliable to work here,” she said.
The secretary spent much of his time at the store touring the facilities and chatting with employees, who helped him carve a key, mix a special blend of purple paint called “Ruth’s Best” and sign up for an Ace Rewards card.
After successfully cutting a 12-inch by 17-inch piece of plexiglass with help from 29-year-old employee Steve Held, Perez joked that he was ready to leave the Labor Department. “I’m going to be giving notice,” he said. “I saw they’re hiring here.”
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