Representatives and candidates for the General Assembly addressed concerns of minimum wage workers and allies during a rally at First Baptist Church in Raleigh on Thursday.
A coalition called Raising Wages NC called for the event to advocate for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, indexing it to inflation to account for the rising annual cost of living, and allowing workers to form unions.
The public hearing was intended to get candidates for governor, labor commissioner and the General Assembly to state their position on raising the minimum wage before the upcoming elections in November. The audience and speakers were adamant that the members of the panel give a clear answer to the question of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“We don’t want it tomorrow,” Deborah Brockington, a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told the panel. “We want it right now.”
The coalition is comprised of nearly 30 organizations, labor groups, advocates, business and faith leaders from all over the state who believe $7.25 an hour is no longer a living wage for workers in North Carolina.
“We work! We sweat! Put 15 on our checks!” rang through the fellowship hall as the rally began, a chant initiated by speakers Darlene Bacon and David Dixon.
Dozens of workers and allies gave testimony about their personal experiences holding minimum wage jobs. They described the difficulties they faced because the minimum wage does not adequately meet their needs to pay for rent, utilities, food, medicine and other necessities.
Many speakers had been working low-wage jobs since childhood in order to save money and support their families. Sara Fearrington, a 43-year-old Waffle House server and mother of three, said she has worked in nearly every field since the age of seven, trying to support her family and keep a roof over their heads.
“I would like to share a very personal experience with all of you,” she told the panel. “At the time, I was homeless, living with my husband and my youngest three children in a hotel.”