North Carolina Passes $15 State Employee Minimum Wage

North Carolina Republican legislators surprised critics when they passed a $15-per-hour “living wage” for 10,000 state workers.

The increase will affect about 10,000 state government and university system employees, such as secretaries, hospital workers, security guards and housekeepers.

North Carolina’s GOP — Republicans — surprise critics by passing a $15 living wage for state workers, saying it’s been hard to recruit and keep good employees. (But minimum wage stays $7.25 for everyone else).”

Other states have taken similar steps but North Carolina is the first to put the wage increases into effect. Most affected employees got immediate wage increases this month.

Asked why they did this, one legislative budget writer said that it was done to help state agencies retain veteran workers who have the skills and experience the state needs.

Others believe that it was done for political reasons. Cynics believe it was done because the GOP is trying to curry favor with North Carolina’s state employees’ union in an election year. Republicans are desperately trying to hold onto their control of the General Assembly in the state and giving money to low paid workers is a clear sign of just how desperate they really are.

Before the new law was passed, the North Carolina state employee salary floor was about $24,300, or about $11.70 per hour. Some fortunate state employees got a 28 percent raise, giving them a new minimum equivalent salary of $31,200 per year.

Gloria Dockery, who cleans buildings at the University of North Carolina, said her wage increase will make it easier to cover her house payment and maybe even treat herself once in a while.

“About the time you pay all of your bills, it’s gone,” said Dockery, 58. “We should have a little change in our pocket. … It sure would help me a lot.”

It should be noted that GOP leaders who control the General Assembly have never shown any interest in raising the minimum wage for all employees in the state beyond the current $7.25 federal level. Most people agree it is not possible to live beyond the poverty level with a minimum wage that low.

Increasing  the minimum wage benefited just 10 percent of the state government workforce, and cost just $15 million. More importantly for Republicans, it puts them in the good graces of the 50,000-member State Employees Association of North Carolina in an election year.

“You’re seeing a confluence of economics and politics, and if it ends up this small amount of money helped the Republicans retain their veto-proof majorities in the legislature, then to them it was well worth it,” said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“The big question that legislators have to answer is why they think some people in North Carolina deserve a living wage and others do not,” said Allan Freyer with the North Carolina Justice Center, which lobbies for the poor. He did call the increase for state workers a “great first step,” however.