Guest Commentary

Some companies boosting pay for low-wage workers

Daryl Charron, of Liberty, carries a sign during march last year to the Kansas City Restaurant Association offices in Westport. Members of the Stand Up KC organization protested in favor of low wage workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Some companies are boosting low-wage workers’ salaries in response.
Daryl Charron, of Liberty, carries a sign during march last year to the Kansas City Restaurant Association offices in Westport. Members of the Stand Up KC organization protested in favor of low wage workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Some companies are boosting low-wage workers’ salaries in response. along@kcstar.com

It turns out business leaders like me who believe in raising wages have a lot more company than we realized.

A recent survey of 1,000 high-level U.S. executives found that 80 percent of them believe in raising the minimum wage in their states. And that survey wasn’t conducted by a liberal pollster.

The findings came from a conservative firm working for state chambers of commerce. That overwhelming support for higher wages might shock the Missouri legislature, which blocked Kansas City and St. Louis from raising the minimum wage. But to me, a chief operating officer who needs to keep my employees motivated, those survey results make sense.

I’m the chief operating officer at Travois. It’s a small business with a big mission: We promote housing and economic development projects in American Indian communities. During our 20-year history we’ve supported investments in nearly 200 projects worth more than $1 billion.

How could we expect our team of 37 people to maintain that investment track record if we failed to invest in them?

Like other employers, I understand that when we invest in our people, we see immediate returns — more productivity, better teamwork and excitement about getting the job done right. That’s why Travois moved last year to raise the pay of all of its hourly employees to more than $15 an hour.

And we didn’t just boost pay for investment analysts. We made sure the child care workers who care for our employees’ kids are also making a wage they can support their families on.

Our action was inspired in no small part by the brave workers fighting for $15 and union rights in Stand Up KC, whose tireless campaign prompted Mayor Sly James and the City Council to raise the minimum wage. I was proud to see Kansas City set a strong example for the rest of the nation — and disappointed when the state legislature sent a very different message.

Fortunately, America seems to be following Kansas City’s lead, not the legislature’s. Both California and New York state earlier this year passed the highest minimum wage increases in the history of those states. And despite our state legislature’s worst efforts, the fight for a fair wage is continuing here as well.

People here in Kansas City and across the country in April held a big mobilization of underpaid workers. And it wasn’t just low-wage workers marching in the street for $15 an hour and union rights. Some executives like me were out there fighting for $15 as well.

There’s a growing understanding in America that our low-wage economic model isn’t working. When fast-food giants drive down wages for their workers, that drags down pay for workers in child care and home and other vital services.

Because pay in these professions is so low, we’re struggling to find the workers to provide these vital services. And that doesn’t just hurt the workers, it hurts all of us.

It’s true, there are businesses that want to continue profiting from this low-wage model. But as that survey of executives showed, more and more of us are seeing that this model is unsustainable.

Elizabeth Bland Glynn of Kansas City is the chief operating officer of Travois, a Kansas City-based consulting firm that promotes housing and economic development in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities.

  Comments