Shelby County Schools raises minimum wage to $15/hour

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Schools is on track to offer all of its full-time employees a living wage.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district will raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Those eligible for the pay raise earn between $10.60 and $14.98 per hour.

About 1,200 SCS employees will receive a raise, though it's unclear when the raises will go into effect.

Hopson said the raise is a way to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of Dr. King's primary fights was making sure everyone had a living wage.

"Dr. King came to Memphis for underpaid public employees, so for the city school to recognize that thread and that connection over 50 years and think what they can do, there couldn't be a better time to do that," Wendi Thomas, founder of MLK50 Justice Through Journalism, said.

School board members said they hope it makes a major impact on their lives

"When you start to talk about the suffocating poverty that we have in Memphis, making sure that our employees have living wages is huge," Hopson said.

About nine percent of employees are making less than $15 an hour, many of which are teachers' assistants and cafeteria workers...

Although it's less than a $2 increase for many, SCS Board Chair Shante Avant said it makes all the difference.

"We may take for granted what it means to have a 30-cent increase, or a dollar increase or a $2 increase, but for folks who are living at or above the poverty line, it means a lot," Avant said.

Avant said the money won't come from tax dollars or other funds. Instead, it's based on creating a budget.

Hopson said he hopes there will be more change in the community moving forward.

"I hope that other employers who are able to will follow suit," Hopson said.

Hopson will bring a proposal on this within the next 30 days. The board will then have to approve it in the budget, and Hopson said he hopes to have everything implemented in the near future.

Thomas said it's a step in the right direction.

"When they don't pay workers enough to live on, that's bad for the workers, it's bad for the children, and it's bad for the community as a whole, so for the school to step up and take that role is great," Thomas said.

That's why she and her team surveyed 25 of the largest employers in the Memphis area to see if they're paying their employees a living wage.

"You can't say you honor King and you don't pay your workers enough to live on," Thomas said.

While the MLK50 team is still waiting on the results from some employers, both Thomas and Hopson said they hope more businesses will step up to the plate to make sure no one has to live in poverty.

"I hope that other employers who are able to will follow suit," Thomas said.

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