Local Politics

Wake OKs 'living wage' for county workers

Posted November 16, 2015 4:10 p.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2015 7:44 p.m. EST

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to adopt a policy ensuring county workers earn a "living wage."

The policy would increase the minimum wage paid by the county to full-time workers to $13.50 an hour. About 75 of the county's 4,000 employees earn less than that now, with some making as little as $11.08 an hour.

"This county has embarked on a comprehensive plan to fight poverty and address what it means to be poor in this county," Commissioner Matt Calabria said. "If we are working to address poverty in Wake County, the very least we can do is make sure we aren’t responsible for it as employers."

To calculate a living wage for the Raleigh area, county officials used a calculation developed by the Universal Living Wage Organization that is based on the idea that a person who works full time should be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and meet his or her basic needs. Based on the local cost of living, the calculation determined that $14.88 an hour would be a living wage locally, but county officials discounted that to $13.50 to account for the benefit of county-provided health insurance.

Library assistants will see pay increases of less than $1,000 annually, while some animal shelter attendants will get up to $3,432 more annually in their paychecks.

Kim Furino has worked at the Wake County Animal Shelter for two years and earns $11.85 an hour to feed animals and clean cages.

"I think it’s the right thing, and we deserve it," Furino said of the pay raise. "It’s going to make me want to come to work more."

Dr. Jennifer Federico, director of Wake County Animal Services, said the new pay rate will help retain other shelter workers and reduce the training administrators have to do.

"It would be nice to retain our great employees because we do have to start over with training each time, which then leaves a gap for the health care for these animals," Federico said.

Calabria said helping workers make ends meet will help reduce turnover and boost productivity and morale.

"If you invest in your people, they will invest in you," he said.

The pay raises, which go into effect Dec. 1, will total about $93,000. Officials said departments would be able to absorb the extra expense.

"We’re pleased that the number of employees who will benefit from the living wage is relatively low, because it shows that our market analysis is working," Angela Crawford, Wake County human resources director, said in a statement. "We regularly research what the fair market rate is for each one of our positions, and the living wage data proves our efforts are effective."

The living wage will be reviewed annually as part of the budget process and will be adjusted as needed to keep up with changes in the local housing market, officials said.

Eight other communities in North Carolina, including Durham and Orange counties and the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, already have living wage ordinances for public-sector workers. Raleigh is conducting a salary study that is expected to address the issue.

Durham's living wage is $12.53 an hour, plus benefits, while Chapel Hill's is $13.35 an hour, plus benefits. Orange County has a living wage of $12.76.

No e-cigarettes in county buildings

The Board of Commissioners also voted unanimously to ban e-cigarettes in county buildings or county-owned vehicles.

Tobacco use is already banned in county buildings and vehicles, and the commissioners extended that to include vapor products.

The new ordinance takes effect Feb. 1.