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Faith Leaders Gather to Support Statewide Minimum Wage

Faith leaders shake hands with Del. Josh Cole
Faith leaders shake hands with Del. Josh Cole (D-Fredericksburg) as Cole walks into the Capitol on Wednesday. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Faith leaders from the Virginia Interfaith Center gathered at the Capitol Wednesday, praying for lawmakers to end their divisions over how to raise the minimum wage.

House Democrats have proposed raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour across Virginia by 2025. A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), however, would raise the wage to $11.50 by 2023, with future increases tied to regional median incomes. That means that more expensive parts of the state, like Northern Virginia, would see a $15 minimum wage much faster. 

Reverend Elisha Burke, director of health, wellness, and social justice for the Baptist Convention of Virginia, said the regionalized approach creates an unfair system.

“At the end of the day, you’re almost creating a caste system where people can’t get very far from where they start,” Burke said. “We very much want to encourage our legislators to reconsider, and do a living wage across the board.” 

House and Senate Democrats are also at odds over whether to remove certain exemptions to the Virginia Minimum Wage Act. Currently, domestic workers, farmworkers and people with disabilities are exempt from minimum wage protections. 

A bill, sponsored by Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), would repeal exemptions for farmworkers and domestic workers. That isn’t included in the Senate version. The Senate is looking to repeal the minimum wage exemption for people with mental or physical disabilities, though.

Reverend Anthony Fludd of Newport News says exemptions like these would continue economic inequalities along racial lines.

“We must close the loopholes that currently exclude money from our Black and Latino workers,” Fludd said. “Let our proposals ensure that Virginia wage laws are fairly enforced.” 

The bills being considered in the General Assembly could also exclude college students under the age of 22. Virginia’s minimum is currently tied to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.