WASHINGTON -- Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez teamed up with the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, to meet Monday with kitchen workers at a local restaurant and deliver a lunchtime plea for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
The increase has been a top second-term political priority for President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress. Obama himself pushed the measure again Saturday in his weekly address.
However, it is stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
Asked if he sees any recent movement among Republicans on the minimum wage, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said, "The Republicans are talking to us all the time about whether or not this is going to come up. I appreciate that the GOP leadership has a very hard line against ... But I think before the election, we have a very good chance of passing this."
Miller, who is a longtime confidant of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, is not seeking re-election this year after four decades in Congress. "There are a lot of good moving pieces here around this debate," he said.
The higher wage hasn't passed the Democratic controlled Senate or the GOP-run House. The Senate considered it, but then put it aside. House Democratic leaders have made several pleas to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to schedule a vote.
The Labor Department proposed a rule last week to raise the minimum wage for employees of all federal contractors by Jan. 1, 2015, fleshing out an executive order Obama signed in February. There will be a 30-day period for interested parties to submit comments. The department will review the comments and issue a final rule by Oct. 1.
All the full-time workers at the restaurant visited by Perez and Miller make more than the minimum wage. Co-owners of "Sweetgreen," in the Dupont Circle section of the nation's capital, said workers generally start out at $8.50 an hour for the first couple of weeks during training and then they go to an annual salary.
Asked why they decided to go to a business where everybody makes well over the federal minimum wage, Perez said the restaurant demonstrates that small businesses can still pay higher-than-minimum wages and still "do good and do well. You don't have to make a profit on the backs of your workers."
"I think employees feel great to know that we support them and want them to have a comfortable life. Paying them a fair wage is one part of that," said Jonathan Neman, who is co-owner of the business along with Nicolas Jammet. "If at first you don't succeed, you keep trying.
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