Washington D.C. took another step closer to raising its minimum wage to $15 on Monday when a Superior Court judge reversed an earlier ruling to allow a ballot initiative to go forward, all but ensuring D.C. residents will vote on the measure this November.
But it's increasingly looking like the ballot measure is just a backup plan, with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser having announced her support in late April — and now with former mayor Vincent Gray, who is running for his old city council seat in Ward 7, throwing his support behind the idea as well.
Gray expressed his support at a rally for unionized D.C. security guards, who were protesting for higher wages in their next contract. Most of them already make about $15, but say that’s not enough to keep up with the cost of living in D.C. They said their employers — Allied Barton, Securitas, Securamerica, and Admiral — had offered only a 15 cent-an-hour raise. (None of the companies returned calls and emails for comment on Monday.)
“When I first heard of 15, I thought they meant $15,” Gray said, at a podium in front of a group of security guards and building cleaners wearing the purple shirts of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. “But you know what, that’s the next fight. That fight is coming too.”
Gray confirmed in an interview that despite his previous opposition to a labor-backed bill that would have raised the minimum wage for large employers, he now thinks it should keep rising beyond the planned increases that he signed into law in early 2014 before losing his seat to Bowser later that year. The SEIU, which backed Gray in that race, is now considering who to support in his campaign against incumbent councilwoman Yvette Alexander.
Standing in the rain with no umbrella, Gray recalled the lessons of his father, a labor leader. “I learned what good wages were from my parents,” he said. “And I learned how to fight.”
The 3,000 security guards represented by the SEIU have nearly doubled their hourly rate since unionizing in 2008, easily exceeding the national median wage for security guards, which sits at $11.84. (Transportation security screeners, on the other hand, make $18.90 an hour).
Still, Judith Howell says that the unique security challenges of the capital city have continued to mount along with the cost of living in D.C. She has been a security guard for 12 years, and now works part time at 1770 Rhode Island Ave. N.W., while serving on the bargaining committee for the union. When you're keeping an eye out for potential jilted lovers, thieves, and terrorists, it helps to not have to hold down several jobs at once.
“The wages and the benefits allow us to be more professional on the job,” Howell says. “We’re not just spaceholders.”