WASHINGTON — The cameras were rolling as Labor Secretary Thomas Perez asked Daniel Whitney how he likes his job at Ace Hardware in Washington’s Mount Vernon Square area, where all employees are paid more than the minimum wage.
If you guessed that Whitney’s response was positive, you win a free key. (Okay, you can get one copied gratis regardless, thanks to Ace’s “free-key Friday,” not to be confused with the Disney movie in which a mom and daughter trade souls for a day and come away wiser.)
Sales associates in green vests and big smiles showed Perez how to carve a key, mix a quart of paint and cut a piece of Plexiglas. But the real point of the visit to the locally owned retailer was to highlight President Barack Obama’s State of the Union message about raising the federal minimum wage. Increasing it to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation would help Main Street, he argues, because more money in the pocket doesn’t stay there for long. “Paying folks a fair wage,’’ Perez said at the store, “is the essence of growing a small business.”
He disputed a reporter’s question about how unlikely it is that a Republican-controlled Congress will pass legislation to raise the wage: “I think Congress can act and will act,’’ he said, because “people in red states and blues states understand no one who works full time should live in poverty.”
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and the District of Columbia rate is $8.25, but Ace owner Gina Schaefer pays workers at her nine stores as least $10 an hour, and partly matches their withholding for 401(k) retirement accounts, too. Another draw, sales associate Steve Held said, is a low-stress work environment: “They trust us to do the right thing and focus on the customer.”