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Virginia Workers Rally For $15 Minimum Wage

A small crowd at the Capitol holds signs reading, "Raise the wage."
Workers and union leaders advocating for a higher minimum wage on Capitol Square Tuesday. (Patrick Larsen/VPM News)

*Intern Patrick Larson also contributed to this story.

Workers and union leaders gathered on Capitol Square Tuesday morning to call for a state minimum wage increase.

Advocates voiced their support for proposed bills that would increase Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2023. Those bills are being sponsored by Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) and Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). This isn’t the first year a minimum wage hike has been proposed, but Ward said with a new Democratic majority in the General Assembly, she wants to pass an increase this session.

“Every year we come back and say, this year. This year I want you to say, this here year we are going to increase the minimum wage," Ward said.

Ward spoke to a crowd of more than 100 workers, many making below $15 per hour. 

Michelle Lee, a cashier at Safeway in Alexandria, said their fight is about dignity.

“My coworkers and everyone in the state of Virginia would be able to provide for their family and it would not put as much burden on the taxpayers,” Lee said.

Currently, Virginia’s minimum wage is tied to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The federal wage has been at that level since 2009.

Patricia Namyalo, a server at a hotel in Washington D.C., said $7.25 is not enough.

“Today, we are fighting for a world in which no hotel worker has to try and make a living on poverty wages,” Namyalo said.

Last week, business groups like the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Virginia Retail Federation announced they were forming a coalition to oppose the minimum wage hike and other proposed labor regulations.

Jodi Roth, a lobbyist for the VRF, said raising the minimum wage could increase unemployment and hurt the state’s business-friendly reputation. 

“This increase could mean a reduction in jobs, a reduction in hours, decisions to not hire young workers that lack experience, and even closing locations,” she said.

Roth also said that most of the businesses VRF works with offer higher wages than the state minimum because the economy allows them to. She contends that the economy is not strong enough in all parts of the Commonwealth to justify an across the board raise.

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