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At a Wilson Building rally on Thursday morning, Mayor Muriel Bowser adopted the rhetoric advocates have long used in calling for a higher minimum wage, saying the District will “fight for 15” dollars an hour.
Surrounded by members of Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents caregivers, and standing next to piles of petitions residents had signed, Bowser doubled down on her commitment to raising D.C.’s minimum wage to that level by 2020. Still, as of shortly after the rally, her office hadn’t yet submitted the relevant legislation to the D.C. Council, according to a Wilson Building staffer. (The District government will be closed tomorrow in celebration of D.C. Emancipation Day.) It was also unclear if Bowser’s proposal will include tipped workers like restaurant servers.
“We have to close [gaps] to be the city we’re supposed to be,” Bowser said, noting economic inequality across D.C. “We have to raise the wage—we have to make sure people have access to good-paying jobs.”
The mayor’s push for a minimum-wage increase comes as states throughout the U.S. are passing or are expected to pass wage expansions, such as California and New York. Within the District, it also coincides with an ongoing effort by labor activists to collect signatures for a minimum-wage increase ballot initiative by July. Members of D.C.’s business community have expressed concern that any mandated raise—especially when coupled with a more robust paid-leave policy being forged—would render them less competitive regionally.
But at Thursday’s rally, Bowser said she’s concerned with helping residents “who are the most vulnerable,” adding that more than 20 percent of D.C.’s residents live in poverty. Caregiver Rhina Garabito said in a statement that she struggles to make “impossible choices” between paying rent and feeding her three kids.
“Too many of us aren’t paid on time or work without pay because our system of care is broken,” she noted. “We need a voice at the table to make sure seniors throughout the city get the care they need and we can lift ourselves out of poverty.”
The mayor announced her intent to submit minimum-wage legislation in April during her State of the District address last month.
Illustration by Lauren Hennigan