One World Market was founded nearly 21 years ago with a mission to help alleviate poverty in the developing world by buying and selling products made by people paid a fair wage, protected from child exploitation and working in safe conditions.
So it was a natural fit when the nonprofit’s leaders learned about the Durham Living Wage Project, which encourages employers to pay employees up to 70 percent above the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“We wanted to make sure we were paying a living wage globally and locally,” said Katie Westermann, assistant director of One World Market, which was founded in the basement of Watts Street Baptist Church in 1991.
One World Market on Ninth Street is one of 13 nonprofits and 29 companies that have signed onto the Durham Living Wage Project, which certifies and promotes businesses that pay their employees more than a defined wage. The freeBuy certification process requires employers to pay individuals without company-provided health insurance at least $12.33 an hour, those with insurance at least $10.83 an hour, and independent contractors $14.33 an hour.
The certified organizations employ nearly 1,000 people.
The living wage project grew out of the Durham People’s Alliance, a community and political organization that advocates for progressive solutions for issues such as environmental protection, LGBT rights and affordable housing.
The project is modeled after Just Economics of Western North Carolina, an Asheville-based membership organization that has certified about 400 organizations with more than 3,000 employees.
About 31 percent (one in three women and one in four men) of workers in North Carolina make a low wage, or less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold for a two-person household, which adds up to or $11.34 or less, according to a 2014 UNC-Chapel Hill research project on the state of low wage workers in the North Carolina.
The Durham Living Wage Project certified 28 employers to build momentum before the official March 10 launch at Fullsteam Brewery. Organizers announced then a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 by April 9 to cover expenses and a part-time staffer. As of Wednesday morning, nearly $5,600 had been donated.
Certified companies range from Rho, a contract research organization with 375 employees to smaller companies such as Fullsteam Brewery, coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon and bakery and restaurant Monuts. Owners of participating companies said the project provided a well thought-out platform that encouraged them to evaluate their pay and benefits. It also nudged them in a direction they already intended to go as wages are one piece of the employee retention and development puzzle.
Of the 42 certified organizations, seven raised their wages to qualify, said Carl Rist, a member of the People’s Alliance committee that helped develop the project.
One World Market employs two full-time and two part-time staffers. While there was a plan to raise the hourly rate for part-timers from $11 to $12, the Durham Living Wage Project set a bar that the leadership ultimately decided to go above as it set the new rate at $12.50, Westermann said.
Beth Bakke, who started pet sitting and dog walking company Dogwalk in 2003, didn’t have to raise the pay for her six contract dog walkers, who average $15 to $18 an hour, to be certified.
However, the conversation about wages inspired her to incorporate a system in which contractors could accrue paid time off.
“It’s only a couple to three days at the most,” she said. “It isn’t a grand gesture, but it is something.”
To support businesses that pay a living wage, the Durham Living Wage Project is hosting a “buycott” at clothing and gift shop Vaguely Reminiscent on Ninth Street from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The “buycott” events are one way the project is using to raise awareness about and support certified living wage businesses.
More information about the project can be found at http://www.durhamlivingwage.org/.