“The reason for this is only about 20 percent of the people who are working in Orange County also live here,” Romaine said. “So we want to look at these surrounding counties because that’s where a lot of our employees are living.”
In North Carolina, cities are required by law to follow what the state says is the minimum wage, meaning cities cannot enforce or change the minimum wage within that jurisdiction. Orange County Living Wage, however, provides a certification program for employers who choose to make their minimum wage the livable wage for the county. These companies and organizations are called "living wage employers."
One of these livable wage employers is Charles House Association, a nonprofit organization specializing in eldercare. Executive Director Paul Klever said there are certain requirements an employer must meet to be certified as a livable wage employer. Once certified, the employer is certified for two years.
“In that two year time that you are currently certified under the rules under the year that you are certified, you have two years to make up for being able to re-certify at the increase that is determined in the second year of certification,” Klever said.
By early January, 206 employers in Orange County had decided to pay their employees living wages and have certified with OCLW.
Steve Brantley, the director of Orange County Economic Development, said once a business or organization decides to move to Orange County, the Orange County Living Wage organization will then talk to them about its voluntary program to pay employees the living wage versus the minimum wage.
“It’s not a federally-mandated minimum wage that every company has to pay. Instead, it is a nonprofit organization built upon similar agencies across the country,” Brantley said. “In Orange County, they have asked me to connect them to some of the larger firms.”
North Carolina has not increased the minimum wage since 2009, leaving it at the federally mandated rate of $7.25 per hour. North Carolina belongs to a legal category known as a "Dillon’s Rule" state, limiting what a city or county government can control. This means localities cannot change the minimum wage within their borders.
“Now, the current makeup of the state legislature would make it very formidable to try to change Dillon’s Law,” Romaine said. “But should the makeup of the legislature change, I think there will be a great deal of interest in looking at ways to provide more opportunities for cities and towns to directly address local problems.”
To see what companies are a part of the Orange County Living Wage initiative, you can look at the nonprofit's website.
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