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Photo courtesy of the Washington Post (Jabin Botsford)

Airport workers at Northern Virginia’s two major airports won a desperately needed pay increase earlier this week. After a two-year fight that included coordinated walkouts and public pressure, the result is a new minimum salary for airport workers of $11.25 per hour starting this January, with an increase to $12.75 by 2020. Contract workers at our airports work as baggage handlers, cleaning crews, and attendants, and they keep our airports running.

I congratulate the workers, their union, and their supporters on this hard-earned victory. It’s one step forward in the fight for economic stability in Virginia, and it shows that when people come together in solidarity and fight for their shared interests, they get the job done. Hourly workers are the backbone of our economy, and their hard work makes Virginia run smoothly. Most of the time, they are doing their job so well that we don’t even notice their work, but we would certainly notice their absence.

Despite our dependence on the efforts of working class families, the current minimum wage in Virginia is a starvation wage of $7.25 per hour. These low wages must not be allowed to continue, which is why I am calling for a new minimum wage of $15 per hour in Virginia. This will ensure that – in one of the wealthiest states in this country – nobody who works full time will be forced to live in poverty.

When large companies rely heavily on workers earning a poverty wage, those workers turn to government benefits to make ends meet. This is effectively a taxpayer subsidy of bad behavior by companies that make billions of dollars in profits every year, and it must end.

There is a more immediate benefit to raising the minimum wage as well. When working families have more in their wallets, they are more likely to shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants, and spend quality time with their loved ones. Raising the minimum wage will also make these important hourly jobs more desirable, and will help to keep experienced workers in key jobs and make many essential functions in our state, such as our airports, rail lines, and utilities, safer and more efficient.

The events of this week and the two years proceeding make one thing clear. Working class Virginians cannot simply stand by and wait for the current General Assembly to end these starvation wages. They have to fight for it, and they have to have folks in Richmond who will fight for it with them. That’s part of why I’m running to be the next Delegate from Virginia’s 50th District, and I hope you will stand with me in the fight to protect our workers, improve our economy, and keep Virginia working for Virginians.

Lee Carter is the Democratic candidate for the 50th district in the Virginia House of Delegates, running this year to unseat the Republican Majority Whip.