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The town recently became living wage certified, meaning 14 part-time Parks and Recreation employees will receive an increase in hourly wage at an average of $2.25 per hour starting July 1 for a combined cost of $35,000 in fiscal year 2016-17.

Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) is a nonprofit organization launched in 2015 that certifies employers as a way to promote a living wage in Orange County. OCLW defines a living wage as the minimum amount that a worker must earn to afford their basic necessities without public or private assistance.

Now, all Town of Carrboro employees will be paid at least $12.75 per hour if they do not receive health insurance benefits or $11.25 per hour if their health insurance is covered by at least half.

Board of Alderman member Damon Seils said program began two years ago.

“We immediately knew that we needed to be a part of that project,” he said. “We can set an example for others.”

The process began in 2014 when the town instituted a two-year plan to pay all full-time employees a fair housing wage, which will rise to $14.98 per hour in July. But several part-time employees were left out of the change.

“Part of our challenge was finding a way to bring this base-level wage to part-time employees in a way that was fair to everyone,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.

Member of the Board of Alderman Bethany Chaney said wage compression is a major barrier to instituting a living wage.

“When you start raising the wages on the lower end of the scale, then the scales themselves get compressed, so there’s not as much room for wage growth over time, and there’s not as much differentiation between classification of jobs,” she said.

Chaney said this can cause morale issues if a person believes their job is undervalued. The second challenge, she said, is the budget, which could pose a larger problem for a town with a larger staff than Carrboro’s.

Susan Romaine, chair of OCLW, said benefits to the individual employee, benefits to business, benefits to the local economy and benefits to the community make the living wage a priority.

“By providing these families with living wage, you would be providing more dignity to the work itself, while lifting many of these families out of poverty,” Romaine said.

She said every extra dollar in the pocket of low-wage workers benefits the local economy by $1.20. And when workers can afford to live in the community where they work, she said, the community sees those benefits.

Orange County Living Wage has certified over 60 Orange County employers since its launch, including Steel String Brewery, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe and Rise Biscuits and Donuts.

David Andrews, Carrboro’s town manager, said the town has not had to raise taxes despite the pay raises.

“Perhaps our example will have an effect, or serve as a model, in some way,” he said.

“While we would like to see every person in North Carolina, and in every state, earn a living wage, we respect the fact that the process poses more challenges for some employers than others.”

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