A coalition of clergy, union leaders and activists is seeking to put an initiative on next year's ballot that would raise the District's minimum wage to $12.50 an hour — saying D.C. Council members' promises to raise the minimum wage don't go far enough.
"Sometimes the electorate has to lead so the politicians will follow," said John Boardman, of Unite Here Local 25, which represents the city's hotel workers. "You need $12.50 at a minimum to survive in this city."
The D.C. Working Families coalition kicked off its campaign — which will have to collect 23,000 signatures in order to place the measure on the November 2014 ballot — Tuesday morning with a rally in front of the John A. Wilson Building.
A previous attempt to increase the minimum wage to $12.50 at some large retail stores — in particular Wal-Mart — was vetoed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray this year. D.C. Council members have introduced various bills since the legislation was killed to increase the minimum wage, though their latest efforts do not seem poised to match the $12.50 amount.
Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, who leads the committee charged with considering four minimum wage proposals, told The Associated Press that he plans to move a bill out of committee that would increase the city's minimum wage from $8.25 to $11.50 an hour over the next three years. Lawmakers from neighboring Montgomery County and Prince George's County have also signaled willingness to increase wages to $11.50 an hour in the coming years and are considering similar measures.
"There are some people in the Wilson Building who understand that we need help but time is running short," said Delvone Michael, director of D.C. Working Families. "So while they're in there figuring, we'll be out here organizing."
Many of the dozens of activists who rallied Tuesday were part of the failed efforts to get the Large Retailer Accountability Act adopted.
Some of those organizers have regrouped with D.C. Working Families, an offshoot of a New York-based group that has promoted social justice issues in other states. They stressed that despite the revitalization the city has undergone in recent years, not enough is being done to protect and help the poorest residents.
The Rev. George Gilbert Jr., of The Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in Northeast D.C., said that amid efforts to revitalize the District, the city has become richer but also unequal.
"We have become a city of the haves and the have-nots," he said.
Activists plan to file the proposed measure with the Board of Elections in the coming days.
The board will have to hold a public hearing on the initiative and make a determination whether it meets guidelines for allowable subject matter.
If approved, Mr. Gilbert said organizers hope to begin collecting signatures in the spring.
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