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The Daily Tar Heel

'A more equitable community': Orange County Living Wage updates hourly pay to $16.60

Back Alley Bikes, located at 100 Boyd St. in Carborro, NC, is a living wage certified buisness.

Orange County Living Wage has updated its 2023 hourly living wage to $16.60, or $15.10 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. This is a 75-cent increase from last year's living wage.

OCLW adjusts its living wage annually to reflect increasing rent prices across Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.

Alaina Plauche, a board member of OCLW, said the organization was founded to address the discrepancies between increasing rent prices and the stagnation of federal and state minimum wages.

“We're helping support and encourage local businesses who employ the people who live and work here and make up the community,” Plauche said. “We're just here to support and encourage them to pay their workers a living wage.”

OCLW incentivizes local businesses to pay their workers a living wage by certifying and providing publicity to the companies that meet the hourly wage minimum.

“The impetus for starting Orange County Living Wage was a desire for a more equitable community and better workplace environments for people living in our community and in the county,” Plauche said. 

Back Alley Bikes, a worker-owned bicycle shop in Carrboro, is one of OCLW’s 266 living wage-certified employers.

Tamara Sanders, a store manager, said she looks to OCLW for guidance on identifying and quantifying what a living wage should be.

Sanders also said one reason she pays her employees a living wage is so that they are able to afford rent and live in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. Paying a living wage, she said, also helps her business retain employees.

“This is something that’s very key to me because we are nothing without the folks that work with us and help us,” she said.

Sanders said as inflation and rent prices continue to increase, Back Alley Bikes will increase their wages as well.

Trey Anthony, a second-year graduate student at UNC and president of The Workers Union at UNC, said two of the union’s largest campaigns this year have been for improved wages for University housekeepers and living wages for graduate student stipends.

Anthony said the union is fighting for improvements at both the University and state level. The current minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25 an hour, which has not changed since 2008.

“$7.25 an hour is incredibly laughable,” Anthony said. “It's absolutely shameful. There's no other way to put it, especially with inflation how it is. It's really a starvation wage.”

Plauche said the state minimum wage signals that the federal and state governments are willing to exploit workers.

Anthony, a graduate student employee of the University, said he has been forced to use food stamps due to the current rate of his stipend. 

“The University is not meeting that livable wage standard for grad students by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. 

Sanders said one reason why other businesses might not pay their employees living wages is due to the narrow margins of money coming in versus money going out.

“If your business model relies on the exploitation of your workers, then your business or institution is not built on a solid or ethical foundation to begin with,” Anthony said.

Plauche said OCLW is currently in the early stages of forming a strategic planning committee to discover how they can better support the community. Both Plauche and Anthony said community members should not stop fighting for livable wages.

“I think it's important to join the movement and demand living wages not only for ourselves, but other people in our community,” Plauche said.

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