Virginia Interfaith Center expands living wage certification program statewide

George Copeland Jr. | 11/24/2021, 6 p.m.
In March 2018, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy launched its Living Wage Certification Program, recognizing 10 businesses and …

In March 2018, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy launched its Living Wage Certification Program, recognizing 10 businesses and organizations in Richmond that guaranteed paying livable wages to its employees.

The program has since expanded to Alexandria, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, with the number of certified organizations rising to nearly 40.

Now, VICPP has expanded its certification program statewide, the latest step in an effort ensure better wages — and lives — for Virginia workers.

“We need to get the minimum wage right,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of VICPP. “It’s still not high enough for people.”

VICPP hopes that by certifying companies that pay living wages, it will both raise the state’s wage standards and encourage people to patronize those businesses that are certified.

The program expansion coincided with VICPP joining the National Living Wage Network and Living Wage for US to bring International Living Wage Week to the United States. International Living Wage Week promoted the need for fair pay for the nation’s workers and the value of a collective effort between employees, employers and labor groups.

“There are folks who are working eight hours, but they’re unable to put food on their table,” said Evette Roots of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building during a virtual seminar held as part of the event.

“We have to be very intentional when we do this work. We have to make sure that we collaborate with partners in order to do this work,” she said.

A number of advancements in labor rights and benefits have been seen across Virginia in the years since living wage certification started. From a new law barring a form of wage theft to the removal of loopholes and standards that allowed businesses to skirt minimum wage requirements and gave workers little recourse for action, labor groups and advocates have made great strides in the state.

As Ms. Bobo noted, however, several critical issues remain unaddressed. A recent statewide rise in the minimum wage to $9.50, with increases set to roll in across the years under current law, still falls below what advocates have called for. Ms. Bobo believes there’s not enough general support built up to influence public policy for the better.

“We’re not yet at the tipping point,” Ms. Bobo said. “We’re making progress. We’re certifying more companies, but there’s not yet enough that are certified.”

A push by VICPP and other advocates to establish paid sick days for workers in Virginia also has been rejected by the General Assembly. Ms. Bobo isn’t sure if another push during the upcoming General Assembly session in January is likely to succeed because of the change in administration and change in political control of the House of Delegates.

Nevertheless, Ms. Bobo said VICPP is gearing up for the upcoming legislative session, with an agenda built around continuing and protecting the progress made so far.

Ms. Bobo invited people to participate in VICPP’s lobby day on Jan. 19.

“We’re happy to have people,” she said. “We’d love help.”