Wake County

Wake raises minimum pay for county employees

Kim Furino, a kennel attendant at the Wake County Animal Center, loves on one of the shelter’s pit bulls. Furino is one of about 75 county employees who will benefit from the Wake County commissioners’ decision on Monday to raise the county’s base pay to $13.50 an hour from $11.08 an hour.
Kim Furino, a kennel attendant at the Wake County Animal Center, loves on one of the shelter’s pit bulls. Furino is one of about 75 county employees who will benefit from the Wake County commissioners’ decision on Monday to raise the county’s base pay to $13.50 an hour from $11.08 an hour. aspecht@newsobserver.com

Kim Furino, a kennel attendant at the Wake County Animal Center, begins her work days by cleaning the cages of dogs and other animals who have been left alone overnight.

Furino loves her job at the county shelter, where she cares for the animals, helps with the adoption process and even fosters some of them, but it can be tough to make ends meet at times.

Now some shelter workers like Furino, as well as county customer service representatives, nurses’ aides and library assistants, will soon find their jobs more financially rewarding.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to adopt a new living wage ordinance, giving raises to 75 employees starting Dec. 1.

The move raises base pay for full-time county employees to $13.50 per hour from $11.08, ensuring they’ll all earn at least $28,080 a year.

Commissioner Matt Calabria instructed county staff to review employee pay nearly a year ago. Addressing poverty is a top priority for the board, which gained a Democratic majority in last year’s election.

“The very least we can do is ensure we aren’t contributing to (poverty) as employers,” Calabria said, noting that 120,000 Wake residents live in poverty.

Commissioners held a press conference at the Wake County Justice Center prior to their vote to explain it.

In adopting the new wage, Wake becomes just the fourth North Carolina county with a wage ordinance, Calabria said. Buncombe pays a minimum of $12.50 an hour; Durham pays $12.53 an hour, and Orange pays $12.76 an hour.

The increase adds $93,000 in expenses to Wake’s $1.14 billion annual budget and could cost the county more in future years.

The ordinance requires Wake to pay employees based on a calculation developed by the Universal Living Wage Organization. The calculation is based on the organization’s idea that a person who works full-time should be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and meet their basic needs such as food and transportation.

Commissioners believe higher pay will have several other benefits, too, including reducing employee turnover, improving worker performances and boosting the economy.

“Creating higher paying jobs will allow those employees to spend more money within our economy, supporting small businesses and their workers,” Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said.

The board hopes the move also sparks a conversation with employers in the private sector.

“What we found in Wake was that, once we looked at it closely, it was not as expensive as we had anticipated,” Hutchinson said.

Labor advocates praised the board’s move. It suggests Wake leaders understand the plight of “have nots” during a time of growing income inequality, said Michael Gravinese, a vice president for the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

“You understand the times, you understand the need for a square deal for all,” Gravinese said, referring to former President Teddy Roosevelt’s domestic program.

No one spoke in opposition to the wage increase.

Furino, meanwhile, already knows how she’ll spend some of the extra money. One of the dogs she fosters, a 2-year-old pit bull named Bonnie, has heart worms and needs treatment.

“The wage increase will help with that, of course,” she said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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