The acting U.S. secretary of labor is scheduled to meet in Charlotte Wednesday with low-wage earners who never get seen or heard as part of a continued push by the Obama administration to make Congress raise the federal minimum wage.
Seth Harris is expected to hold a round-table discussion at First Baptist Church, 1801 Oaklawn Ave., with supporters of a higher minimum wage. The Charlotte stop is part of a U.S. tour that has taken Harris to about a dozen cities since President Barack Obamas State of the Union address, in which he called for increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25. Previous stops included Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Orlando, Fla.
Mayor Anthony Foxx is also scheduled to attend the afternoon event, according to his office. Last month, Bloomberg News, citing two people familiar with the matter, reported that Obama is considering Foxx for transportation secretary.
Harris, in an interview with the Observer Tuesday, said Charlotte is among the important cities that have been picked for the tour. It will be Harris second visit to Charlotte in as many months; in February, he attended a Global Competitiveness Summit at Central Piedmont Community College.
When asked by the Observer whether he planned to meet with business owners who might be affected by raising the minimum wage, Harris said no. The focus of his trip will be to give a voice to low-wage workers who never get seen or heard by the American people, he said.
My job, my goal, is to give these workers an opportunity to tell their stories, he said.
During his State of the Union address, Obama said workers shouldnt have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pays never been higher. Lets tie the minimum wage to the cost of living so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
Obama has called for the minimum wage to be raised in stages so that it reaches $9 by the end of 2015. Citing economic studies, the Obama administration says a higher minimum wage would help the overall economy.
Some economists, though, dispute that claim.
On balance, its unlikely to do anything much for the economy, John Connaughton, an economics professor at UNC Charlotte, said Tuesday.
While there would be winners those minimum-wage workers who get to keep their jobs there would be losers, too: those employees who would be let go if the minimum wage is raised, Connaughton said.
The bottom line is, employers wage bills are not going to go up as a result of this, he said.
North Carolina is one of 22 states where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Observer also asked Harris to comment on a report released last month at a Charlotte Chamber of Commerce press conference that found a skills gap in North Carolina. According to the report, the state could face a shortage of 46,000 skilled workers if the problem is not addressed.
Harris, commenting on the skills gap finding, pointed to Central Piedmont Community College, saying it collaborates with companies, like Siemens, to prepare students to be employed right away. CPCC, Harris added, is a central part of Charlottes economic development strategy.
He said North Carolina can address its skills gap in part by supporting community colleges. Businesses can enter into partnerships with nearby community colleges and workforce investment boards to make sure students are being given the specific skills employers need, Harris said.
As for what he might know about Foxx possibly being considered for a cabinet position with the Obama administration, Harris said hes in the dark on the issue.
I would be the last person on earth to know about that, he said.
Roberts: 704-358-5248 Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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