Washington, D.C. just took a bold step toward giving our hard-working families a brighter future.

By supporting a District-wide $15 minimum wage, the City Council and Mayor Bowser have empowered the people of D.C. and given them a real chance for a better life. No hardworking family or individual should be working full-time and still struggling to keep a roof over their head and food in their children’s mouths fed. 

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We joined other D.C. businesses, labor unions and community organizations in supporting the District-wide $15 minimum wage and Paid Family Leave policy because we believe in economic empowerment for all workers.

At Amalgamated, we know that raising wages and providing family leave is not only good for our communities and our citizens — it’s also good for our businesses and our economy. But more than being good business, it’s simply the right thing to do. That’s why we’ve taken action on behalf of our employees in D.C. and nationwide, committing to pay our workers a $15 minimum wage and guaranteeing them some income when they need to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child, to tackle a serious illness, or to care for a loved one.

This minimum wage hike will help grow the local economy, as workers have the ability to earn an estimated $329 million in new income. Those earnings will go right back into the local economy, as they buy products and use services they couldn’t previously afford.

Paid family leave also has clear economic benefits. It increases female labor force participation by making it easier for women to stay in the workforce after giving birth, increasing both household income and spending power. And when parents are better supported at work through paid family and medical leave, they are also less likely to rely on public assistance benefits.

It’s untapped economic potential that we’re already seeing at work in states that have implemented these policies. Raising the wage alone has empowered 3.2 million New Yorkers, and provided them with the opportunity to generate business and make strides towards weaning off public assistance programs. After California and New Jersey enacted paid family leave benefits, many businesses reported positive experiences, including increased worker retention and reduced turnover, saving them the costs of replacing employees. 

The significance of increasing wages and benefits goes beyond the financial and economic impact; it also raises morale. At Amalgamated, we witnessed the change raising the wage has had on our own employees, increasing their beliefs in our work and mission. We’ve seen the same inspiration and support from our customers, who are empowered by our commitment to ensuring everyone has a fighting chance to succeed. It is a principle that our bank was built on, and one that we apply and value deeply in our work. And it also happens to make good business sense.

We need to now turn our attention to the nationwide fight for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, to guarantee every worker and every family has the opportunities these policies afford. By 2022, studies show that there will be a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. workers across various industries, from banking, to home care, to food service. Wages and benefits are and will continue to be challenges for American families across our nation.

We must find a way to unite and raise this at a federal level.

I encourage employers from every industry to consider and embrace this change for the better. I urge the federal government to support workers in every state, for it is what our country was built on: achieving the American Dream. Raising the minimum wage and enacting paid leave are steps toward bettering the lives of workers and business owners, and will help us end the poverty cycle one and for all.


Keith Mestrich is president and CEO of the D.C.-based Amalgamated Bank, a union-owned financial institution.