District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser was proud to announce Wednesday the minimum-wage hike that took effect that day, though just across town activists were still fighting for more.
At $9.50, the District of Columbia minimum wage was already higher than any state in the nation before it rose to $10.50 Wednesday.
“Raising the minimum wage will give tens of thousands of Washingtonians a raise and boost the bottom lines of our local businesses,” Bowser said. “It’s good for workers, businesses and our economy,”
The minimum-wage hike came as part of a three-year initiative approved by the D.C. council in 2013 that will see it climb again in 2016 to $11.50– but some in the city still want more.
At a Board of Elections hearing later Wednesday afternoon, activists fighting for a $15 minimum wage attempted to get a ballot referendum in place to vote for another wage increase.
The ”Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2016,” a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, would continue the city’s incremental minimum wage increases, starting at $12.50 in 2017. It would creep up again each year until reaching $15.00 per hour by 2020.
Upon reaching $15.00 in 2020, the minimum wage would then increase annually to match the rising cost of living in the city.
D.C. government employees, though, would be exempt from the minimum wage levels if the law goes into effect.
If the board decides that the proposed initiative deserves a spot on the ballot, the activists will need to collect more than 20,000 signatures on a petition before it makes its way to voters.
Both advocates and detractors were on-hand Wednesday to discuss the merits of the proposed ballot initiative.
Harry Wingo, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said raising the minimum wage would have a disproportionate effect on small businesses, which, he said, make up a vast majority of employers in the district.
“No small business owner, which many in the food service industry are, can continue to operate under those conditions,” Wingo said. “Thus many more will close as we have seen in other jurisdictions that have adopted this requirement.”
Matthew Hanson, the campaign director for D.C Working Families, told the board that in order for a D.C. resident to make a living wage at an hourly rate of $11.50, a person would need to work 137 hours a week for 52 weeks a year.
“Unless we do something to address this growing imbalance, it will only get worse,” he said.
Wingo said he has talked to business owners in the city that said if wages increased that significantly, jobs would be eliminated and prices would increase.
“It must be recognized that while it may sound progressive to raise the minimum wage, this is not consistent with an understanding of the economic effects that the high labor costs would have on local businesses, and D.C. government agency resources,” he said.
The D.C. Chamber of Commerce released a survey Tuesday that showed businesses are unlikely to employ more workers if the minimum wage is increased to $15.00. According to the survey, more than half of the businesses said they would reduce the working hours of employees if the increase were to take effect.
In April, Seattle enacted a new minimum-wage law that will force businesses to pay employees $15.00 per hour by 2018, and already the city is starting to see casualties.
Ritu Shah Burnham, a small business owner in Seattle, told local Fox News affiliate Q13 she didn’t want to close her pizza shop, but she will be forced to in August because she can’t afford to pay the city’s mandated wage-hike.
“I’ve let one person go since April 1, I’ve cut hours since April 1, I’ve taken them myself because I don’t pay myself,” she told the TV station. “I’ve also raised my prices a little bit, there’s no other way to do it.”
Earlier this month, Los Angeles also voted to raise its minimum wage to $15.00 by 2020.