Is the Living Wage Bill Hypocritical? Check Your Math.
Political consultant and NBC Washington contributor Chuck Thies got a lot of attention this morning for a column he wrote under the provocative headline "D.C. Government Doesn't Pay a 'Living Wage.'" "Hypocrisy alert," he sassed. "District government pays less than $12.50 per hour." Before the city forces large retailers to pay a living wage under the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013, he wrote, it should consider that it doesn't even pay its own employees that much.
The story made the rounds on Twitter.
Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo emailed it out to the media.* Thies bragged that it even made the Drudge Report.
The only problem? His thesis isn't true.
"According to the D.C. Department of Human Resources," Thies wrote, "some full-time school maintenance workers and custodians make $11.75 per hour. The rate for a clerk at the University of the District of Columbia is $10.40."
But the living wage bill allows retailers to deduct prorated benefits from the $12.50 requirement. The wages Thies quotes don't include benefits.
Department of Human Resources spokesman Alex McCray says that D.C. government employees who work at least 20 hours a week are eligible for benefits. The bare minimum benefits package—with medical, dental, vision, and an employee assistance program—amounts to $4.46 an hour for employees who work 20 hours a week, or $2.23 an hour for employees who work 40 hours a week, on top of the regular wages.
In other words, a full-time school maintenance worker or custodian who makes $11.75 an hour would, under the living wage bill's provisions, be considered to be earning $13.98 an hour—well more than the living wage. Even the UDC clerk making $10.40 would, under the minimum benefits package, get $12.63, clearing the threshold required for Walmart employees.
That's not to say that the living wage bill isn't flawed or arbitrary—but it's not hypocritical.
*Correction: Restivo's email linked not to this Thies piece, but to another Thies piece on NBC Washington that also criticized the living wage bill. I apologize for the error.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery