Just two months ago, protesters gathered outside Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools' Chapel Hill offices to protest negligent treatment of of minority students and workers. One thing CHCCS neglected to do was pay some of its workers — such as 72-year-old custodian Eugene Farrar, featured in a November story in The INDY
— sufficient wages to live in the towns where they work.
Fortunately for him, and others in his situation, the grassroots Orange County Living Wage Project launched around that time. The organization uses public approval as an incentive, by certifying all employers, private and public, that offer at least $12.75 per hour (or $11.25 per hour to employees with health benefits).
The certification is publicized on the OCLW website, which plays well in progressive Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Employers are kept honest by an annual re-evaluation of what constitutes a living wage.
CHCCS officially joined the living-wage movement on Jan. 8, with a press release announcing that "72 of the school system’s employees – a combination of custodians and bus monitors - were given raises of an additional $1.30 per hour, for a combined $36,000 over the course of the year."
The school system joins 48 other certified Orange County employers
that pay living wages.
From the news release:
"We've heard from many parents about how frustrated they feel when district staff can't afford to live within our community, and it goes against our traditionally-expressed values,” says James Barrett, newly elected chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. “Paying a living wage is, simply, the right thing to do—and the smart thing to do, from a business perspective. That's a lesson I'm happy for our students to learn through our example."
It's certainly the right thing to do for Eugene Farrar. Or, at least, it's getting there.
Sometimes, a little peer pressure is a good thing.