A new initiative that recognizes and honors employers who pay living wages to employees was introduced at a community breakfast Thursday with remarks from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Paul Junod, Director of Human Resources for Bon Secours Virginia Health System, and Kim Bobo, Executive Director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have raised their state minimum wage higher than the federal standard. Virginia has not,” Stoney said. “In addition, 39 local communities have raised their local minimum wages higher than their states’ wages. Richmond cannot do this because Virginia is a ‘Dillon-rule’ state that requires permission to enact such local laws. But our research in our Office of Community Wealth Building demonstrates that to truly give our residents a chance to escape the stranglehold of generational poverty and climb the ladder to self-sufficiency, people need to make more per hour than many of us pay for a coffee drink at Starbucks.” Stoney hearkened back to his first job, bagging groceries for minimum wage. But he said me realized there were adults working alongside him for the same wage who were trying to take care of their families and had a much greater responsibility than he did. 

“Everyone who works, deserves to work for a living wage,” the Mayor said. “And I’ve got news for you – it’s not $7.25 an hour. I know this from personal experience. I was raised by my grandmother, who worked as a domestic housekeeper. My father worked as a school custodian. They were what we commonly refer to as ‘the working poor.’”

Richmond is the first Living Wage Certification program in Virginia, but programs are under development in Alexandria and Charlottesville. “Maybe there are some other cities that want to start a Living Wage program,” said Bobo, asking the assembled business leaders to connect the Virginia Interfaith Center with other communities.

The Mayor recognized the following businesses and non-profit agencies that are the first to lend their support to the certification program:

  • Altria
  • Better Housing Coalition
  • Bon Secours Richmond Health System
  • The City of Richmond
  • The Commonwealth Institute
  • Richmond Association of Realtors
  • Silverman Law Firm, LLC
  • University of Richmond
  • Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
  • Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

“I am so gratified to see so many business and community leaders here today who deserve recognition for the steps they are taking to make life better for the people who live here and work here and strengthen our community,” Mayor Stoney added.

“All of us here can articulate the many business reasons why paying a living wage — or as we call it at Bon Secours, a ‘just wage,’ makes good business sense,” said Junod. “… As a ministry of the church we believe strongly that our co-workers are our brothers and sisters in God’s global family, that they were all made in His image. Thus, for us it is a moral imperative that we make decisions, such as offering a just wage, that reflect this belief. So our philosophy around living wage goes well beyond the hourly rate.”

Junod added that Bon Secours currently pays a ‘just wage’ of $12.50 an hour, “with plans to increase incrementally each year until we reach $15 an hour by 2022. That will affect more than 3,000 employees each year.”