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Orange County Living Wage Project set to launch October

“All work should be well-compensated. All work should have dignity,” she said. “Dignity means not only being treated with respect but also that those who have worked for a living must make a living.”

The Orange County Living Wage project, set to launch in October, aims to certify businesses that pay their employees a living wage.

The project will encourage businesses across Orange County to raise their wages to an established living wage of $12.75 per hour or $11.25 per hour with health insurance.

Mark Marcoplos, one of the project’s organizers, said participating businesses will receive a logo for their window.

“Businesses that are rightfully proud to be paying a living wage to their employees are going to benefit from more business,” he said.

Almost 40 percent of Orange County workers earn below the determined living wage benchmark, according to the Orange County Living Wage project.

Marcoplos said the project was inspired by the Durham Living Wage Project and Asheville’s Just Economics.

“If people make more money, they spend more money — it’s as simple as that,” he said.

Rajendran said there are two sides to living-wage awareness.

“On two levels, the awareness should be made available to the larger community at the state and the national level that this should be the right thing to do and that there isn’t a choice,” she said.

“The other side of the same coin is that workers everywhere are realizing that it is their basic human right to be compensated with equity.”

Rajendran said she enjoys the recognition the project will provide for businesses that pay a living wage but that this is only one small snapshot of a much larger picture.

“What recognition?” she said. “There isn’t enough recognition yet.”

Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils said he’s excited for the project to launch.

“I think we’ve seen a movement across the country for bringing the minimum wage up,” he said.

Seils said efforts to raise the living wage have already been effective for Carrboro town employees, who now all earn a living wage.

“We’ve seen evidence from other communities of people having greater resources to live on, which encourages spending,” he said. “If it’s successful, it will support the lower- and middle-class citizens to be able to afford to stay where they are.”

Rajendran said businesses that can’t afford to pay a living wage should look at raising wages as a form of profit-sharing.

“Always pay out more to the people that made it possible to make that money,” she said. “Pay out now so you don’t have to pay later.”

And Rajendran said paying a living wage is an investment in the well-being of future generations.

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“Everyone is better off when everyone is paid a better wage — so much so the employees at my restaurant are able to afford food at local markets and are able to make healthy choices,” she said.