Mountain Xpress gains living wage certification

Joining hundreds of other local businesses, Mountain Xpress was certified as a Living Wage Employer for 2014 and 2015 by Just Economics’ in October.

“Adding Mountain Xpress to our list is pivotal,” said Mark Hebbard, Just Economics’ certification program coordinator. “We’ve been excited in partnering with them on the Go Local Directory and the Get It! Guide. Knowing that Xpress is providing a living wage to all its staff legitimizes that partnership. It should make business owners feel even better about doing business with Mountain Xpress for their advertising needs,” he added.

“The certification program aims to identify, designate and reward employers in our community that provide a living wage to all their staff,” Hebbard explained. “It connects local consumers to local employers that are committed to creating a just and sustainable local economy.”

Living wage employers must pay their workers a minimum hourly rate. Those not providing health insurance must pay employees at least $11.85 per hour, and those that do provide health insurance must pay at least $10.35. Employers may offset the wage rate by providing benefits that affect health care, housing, food and transportation. Some exceptions are allowed, such as for apprentices, interns, minors and temporary employees.

“We’re delighted to be Living Wage Certified,” said Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes. “Paying a living wage is an important goal for all businesses wishing to build stronger, healthier communities.”

The Asheville-based group uses a formula to determine, based on the cost of living in local areas, how much individuals must earn per hour in order to put food in their bellies and a roof over their heads unaided, Hebbard explained. “A living wage is the amount that a worker must earn per hour to afford their basic necessities, without resorting to public or private assistance; it is the hourly wage you need just to make ends meet here,” he said.

Currently, Just Economics has certified 396 area businesses as providing a living wage. A full list of those businesses is available here.

The certification plan brings recognition to employers committed to providing a living wage to all their staff and raises awareness among consumers about wages and cost of living in our area.

Living Wage City, USA?

While most Ashevilleans are aware of their city’s well-earned title of Beer City USA, Asheville is quietly gaining national attention for its vibrant Living Wage Certification program, according to Hebbard. Just Economics is playing a role in promoting living wage certification programs across the country. Based on the innovative work by its three-person staff, Just Economics has partnered with the Interfaith Worker Justice network to create a Certification Program Replication Tool-kit, which Interfaith is introducing in 18 states.

Earlier this year, Hebbard consulted with the Arizona Community Action Association, based in Phoenix, that plans on starting its program next year. Hebbard has also been consulting with a group a little closer to home, the Durham People’s Assembly, which also plans to launch its program next year. While the concept did not originate in Asheville, Hebbard takes pride in calling Just Economics’ program “the brightest fire burning in the U.S. on the issue at the moment.” The program is the largest of its kind in the nation, he says.

Besides its business-focused Living Wage Certification program, Just Economics also works with local governments as well as with community groups and individuals to advocate for workers.

Just Economics’ executive director, Vicki Meath, and its community organizer, Amy Cantrell, are currently working on a transportation project with the city of Asheville to ensure that its bus system serves the people who need it the most. And after negotiating resolutions with both the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, Just Economics was also active in supporting living wage policies in surrounding communities, with Montreat and Weaverville passing resolutions in 2014.

Number of Businesses Living Wage Certified in WNC

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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