Levar Stoney was elected Mayor of the City of Richmond in 2016.  The following are his remarks from the launch of the Living Wage Certification Program in Richmond on March 22, 2018.

It’s great to be here this morning – and I’m grateful to see all of you here to support the launch of an important initiative to make paying a living wage a reality in our community.

As you know, the Richmond Living Wage Certification Program is a joint initiative of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Richmond Office of Community Wealth Building.

The purpose of this program is to:

  • Recognize employers who are already paying their workers a living wage.

  • Assist consumers in patronizing businesses that provide living wages.

  • Encourage employers who are not currently paying a living wage to adopt the Campaign’s thresholds.

  • Challenge employers who could raise wages and choose not to do so.

To me, it’s really very simple:

Everyone who works, deserves to work for a living wage.

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.”

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have raised their state minimum wage higher than the federal standard.

Virginia has not.

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.

As many of you know, one out of every four of our residents lives in poverty, including 40 percent of our children. This is simply unacceptable.

Breaking the cycle of generational poverty is the moral challenge of our time. It is the key to unlocking the potential for our families to advance their futures, and the futures of our children.

It is the cornerstone of our goal to build One Richmond – a city that works – and works for ALL of its residents – by embracing the equality of opportunity, regardless of where they live, what they look like, where they’re from, how they worship or who they love.

Jobs are important, but jobs that are worked full-time and still leave those workers below the poverty level may help a corporate bottom line but it will not lift someone up from the bottom. $11 an hour is a good start. $16 is an even greater difference maker.

We also should not be talking about the importance of our residents being paid a living wage in the private sector if we are not prepared to back up our words with action in City government.

So that is why my proposed biennial budget also includes money to fund the recommendations of the Gallagher study to pay all city employees a living wage, and to bring those city employees who are being paid below the minimum standard salary for their job up to that minimum. This proposal would also take effect halfway through the fiscal year, in January 2019.

As you know no Mayor, no CEO, no church pastor, no nonprofit, no individual can do this alone. But working together, in partnership, I believe there is little we CAN’T do.

And that’s why 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.

In particular, I’d like to recognize our Honorees: Altria, Better Housing Coalition, Bon Secours Richmond Health System, City of Richmond, The Commonwealth Institute, The Richmond Association of Realtors, Silverman Law Firm LLC, University of Richmond, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

Your leadership is an example that we hope others will follow as the initiative gains momentum. Sadly, we cannot wait for those in charge in Washington to do the right thing. They seem more content to practice the politics of division and subtraction, when what we really need is addition, and multiplication. So we have to lead.

Richmond is the first Living Wage Certification program in Virginia, and there are six other communities between North Carolina and Massachusetts doing the same thing.

Much needs to be done to achieve our goal to reduce poverty and encourage wealth building,but the Living Wage Certification program, and your investment in this city, is a great start in the right direction.

With you help, I’m confident we will succeed.  Thank you.