From the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Opposes Regional Minimum Wage Language
RICHMOND, VA—The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) proudly represents the diversity of Virginia. Our 23 members hail from every area of the Commonwealth. We are committed to improving equity and working toward a Virginia where everyone has the tools and resources needed to thrive in a prosperous economy. As a caucus, we support empowering workers by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all areas of the state and removing exemptions that are rooted in racism and have unjustly kept many people of color from being paid the minimum wage. That is why VLBC opposes the inclusion of language, in any minimum wage raise bill, that would discriminate against workers based upon the region wherein they reside.
Under the regional approach now being considered, most Black Virginians would be left behind. For instance, only 23% of Black Virginians live in the areas that would likely see the largest minimum wage increase. Localities like Hampton and Richmond may not reach $15 until 2032 or later. By leaving behind the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions, the regional approach would make it more difficult to close the wage gap between white and Black workers. In 2018, Black workers in Virginia were paid 71 cents for every dollar paid to white workers. Black women were paid 60 cents for every dollar paid to white men.
“We need to close this gap,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-18th, Portsmouth). “A regional approach to raising the minimum wage would not help achieve this necessary goal.”
VLBC’s position further reflects the concerns of many Black workers across the Commonwealth.
“I love the home care work I do, but we’re struggling,” said Ebone Newton, a home care worker from Norfolk. “I’ve got a young child, and another getting ready to go to college. I can’t wait 14 years to make $15 an hour, and neither can my community. We all deserve $15 now.”
“I’m a 20-year Army veteran who cares for my fellow Vets struggling with PTSD. It’s a blessing to help them, but I can barely get by,” said Tony Hedgepeth, a home care worker from Richmond.” I was working full time, but I was homeless for 2 years. How can legislators tell us to wait for 12 years in Richmond to make $15 per hour? We need a minimum wage that lifts all hard-working Virginians to $15 as soon as possible.”
Race and the idea of a regional minimum wage are deeply intertwined. When the Fair Labor Standards Act—the law that sets the federal minimum wage—was first being debated in the 1930s, white legislators from the south opposed a uniform wage and proposed regionalism so that white and Black workers would not be on equal footing. Fortunately, a regional approach was rejected then and has been ever since. In fact, in 2019, when the House of Representatives passed the Raise the Wage Act, sponsored by Congressman Bobby Scott, the bill did not include regionalism because it would have left behind more than 15 million working people—over 40% are working people of color.
“We must consider our history as we shape state policy for our future. This Session we are passing many historic bills to correct policies that have had negative impacts on people of color,” said House Labor and Commerce Chair Delegate Jeion Ward (D-92nd, Hampton). “We must raise the wage to $15 for all areas, rather than create new exclusions that would particularly harm Black Virginians.”
VLBC also supports ending the racist policy of excluding domestic workers and agricultural workers—a majority of whom are people of color—from being paid the minimum wage. It’s time for bold, generational change.
“It’s time to enact policies that build a Virginia where all people, regardless of race, gender, or zip code, have an opportunity to thrive,” said VLBC Chairman Lamont Bagby (D-74th, Henrico). “We support a statewide increase in the minimum wage that doesn’t discriminate against workers based upon where they live.”
The VLBC looks forward to engaging with the House and Senate conferees about how together, we can best advance strong and equitable minimum wage legislation.