For 40 of her 55 years, Lelia Bishop Slaughter cleaned other people's homes for a living, and she thinks most household workers should earn more than what they are now paid.
Slaughter was the only domestic worker among 11 witnesses who testified Wednesday night at a hearing on a proposal to raise the minimum wage for household help in the District of Columbia to $3.50 an hour. They now are covered by the federal minimum of $2.65.
Slaughter, who earns more working for affluent suburban families, testified that domestics who work for less in the District cannot survive.
Slaughter's testimony touched off a spirited debate between two members of the Wage-Hour Board of the D.C. Labor Department, which conducted the hearing and will meet Nov. 21 to reach a decision.
David H. Wilmot, one of the members, voiced fear that $3.50 might price moderate-income employers out of hiring workers.Joseph Beavers contended higher wages would attract more workers into a field now short of help.
Blondell Steward Ware, a member of an advisory board that recommended the $3.50 wage, testified that private household workers lack such fringe benefits as medical plans, paid sick leave and vacations. Unionized hotel maids now earn $3.91 plus fringes.
Supporters of the $3.50 minimum included the D.C. Commission for Women, the Greater Washington Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) and the Washington Urban League. The Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade objected, calling for an increase to a figure below $3.50.
Paula Jewell, wage board chairman, said public comments may be mailed until Wednesday to 614 H St. NW.