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“I saw a ‘DC for $15’ canvasser and asked him if he was getting paid at least $15 hourly for his work. Nope.”

by Prince Of Petworth May 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm 49 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

“Dear PoPville,

A few days ago I signed the “DC for $15” campaign’s petition to raise the DC minimum wage to $15/hour. Today I saw another canvasser for the cause and asked him if he was getting paid at least $15 hourly for his work. Nope. Minimum wage, he said. What’s wrong with this picture?

Glassdoor indicates the average DC canvasser annual salary is $22,590, which comes out well below $15/hour. I didn’t do further canvasser canvassing, but it seems plausible that these folks are getting paid less that $15/hour; I don’t know if there are any incentives on top of the base pay.

Here’s the page for the initiative; looks like it’s sponsored by Working Families.”

  • BK2H

    What is your point?

    • DM

      Blatant hypocrisy?

      • BK2H

        The free market should determine wages not law makers. If he doesn’t want to work as a canvasser for that company he can go work for another canvassing company that will. The market always responds.

        • HaileUnlikely

          You appear to be so stuck on your ideology that you completely missed a pretty great opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the pro-$15/hr-minimum-wage advocates paying their workers less than what they themselves say the minimum wage should be.

          • BK2H

            I certainly did not, am more focused on the fact that the employee working for this company willingly chose to work there knowing that he was going to make less than $15/hr. That’s how free markets work, if there was no demand by workers for this position at less than $15/hr, the company would be forced to raise the minimum wage to the point where supply equals demand.

          • textdoc


          • textdoc

            +1 to to HaileUnlikely, that is.

          • ExWalbridgeGuy

            +1 to Haile. BK2H is still missing the point.

        • js

          false. people do *not* always have a choice in their job offers, and the market does *not* always respond.

          • BK2H

            Please explain to me how he did not have a choice? Was he forced into accepting this paid position against his will?

          • BlueStreak

            If the choice is work for a very low wage versus no work at all, that isn’t much of a choice.
            I understand the free market argument. I have a degree in economics. However, I believe that if you’re working full time, you should make enough money to survive. If we as a society decide to embrace the ever shrinking safety net, because we believe “work” is better, then we’d better make sure that the “work” pays a livable wage.

        • DM

          Hey, I totally agree the market should determine the prices; I don’t support a $15 minimum wage. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s incredible hypocrisy on the part of DC for $15.
          If they believe so strongly that people should be paid $15 an hour—regardless of the job, and regardless of the market demands—they have a moral obligation to do so. Not a legal obligation, obviously, but certainly they should be practicing what they preach. Otherwise, they’re admitting that some jobs are not worth $15 an hour. And we get to call them out for what they are: hypocrites who are unwilling to do what they want government to compel others to do.

          • [rrrrr]

            They actually believe that people should be paid $15/hour in 2021. The initiative would begin stepping in the wage increases in 2017. In 2016, you know, the year it is now, they are in favor of the current wage law.

        • BlueStreak

          I’m not sure why people want only the labor market to be the one that is free and not anything else in society. We are far from a free market. There are laws, price controls, regulations, consumer protections, subsidies, barriers to entry, imperfect information, lobbying and many other factors that make our economy far from “free market,” but we want to try and enforce it on the poorest and most marginalized members of that same economy. Come on…

          • BK2H

            You are speaking in generalities which is a common tactic when defending liberal policies. I am not sure why it is difficult to understand that imposing artificial wage controls on private sector employers will somehow solve all of society’s ills. The market will respond with fewer jobs if the gross margin decrease at the higher wage no longer attracts investor capital. Capital is fluid and will go where returns are marginally higher, if in fact they are.

          • BlueStreak

            No one said it would solve all of societies ills. I didn’t even say it wouldn’t have an effect. It almost certainly will. But even economists disagree on to the degree of that effect and whether on balance it is good policy. And my post just said that we institute policies that are anti free market all the time. Because they reflect our values. All of the policies I alluded to in the above post also assuredly have an effect on investments, profit and jobs. This is simply another policy decision we need to make.

  • [rrrrr]

    1. Campaigns are always pretty mercenary. They kind of have to be.
    2. If the initiative were implemented today, the minimum wage wouldn’t be going up until 2017 anyway, so there’s not necessarily hypocrisy (which is what I gather OP is sort of maybe implying).

  • anon

    I assume the OP is implying hypocrisy on the part of this person’s employer. But that’s like saying people who believe in higher taxes should just pay more or people who believe in a higher minimum wage should tip their McDonald’s server. The point of laws is to solve the general case, not the specific case, so we don’t have to rely on the whims of specific employers to achieve a moral society. I’m for this employer paying whatever they can afford to maximize the probability this law change passes, thereby benefiting not just the specific person working on this campaign, but all minimum wage workers

    • Timebomb

      +1. Moreover, the lack of a legal framework forcing the general case makes it ineffective and, in some cases, irrational for individuals to take it upon themselves and solve the specific case. This campaign could pay their canvassers significantly more than others, but probably run out of money quicker than the anti-minimum wage campaign (assuming equal endowments, which are actually probably weighed heavily on the anti groups anyway), and undermine their own goal (which would do a lot more for the greater good than solving their own specific case). This is an example that may not (probably doesn’t?) apply cleanly in this case, but it obviously might with two neighboring McDonalds franchises.
      This is also how I can stomach Democrats’ corporate donations, even though they (and I) would like to see Citizens United overturned. It’s not hypocritical; it’s not letting defiance get the better of productivity.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I basically agree with this, however, I’m sure that there are enough people in DC willing to *volunteer* for the campaign that I would rather use volunteer labor to promote the campaign than open myself to a perfectly legitimate charge of hypocrisy by paying my workers $11 or $12/hr to perform the specific task of advocating on my behalf for a $15/hr minimum wage.
      To put it a different way: almost everybody is a hypocrite at some point or another, oftentimes for good reason. However, being a blatant unapologetic hypocrite isn’t always a really great way to get people to vote for you.

      • west_egg

        I see what you’re saying; but the effective outcome would be a bunch of volunteers making no money, instead of a team of canvassers being paid minimum wage. I have a feeling the canvassers appreciate the paycheck more than they care about whether their employer is any kind of hypocrite. In other words: If the point is to put more money in workers’ pockets, then paying them the prevailing minimum wage does a better job than firing everyone and replacing them with volunteers.

      • Timebomb

        “almost everybody is a hypocrite at some point or another”

        Depends on how broadly you define “hypocrite”; advocating for a policy and not following it before it’s enacted is not hypocrisy. Advocating for it and THEN not following it most definitely would be.

  • Yerbua

    Interesting. The canvasser I met on Columbia Rd. said he WAS getting paid $15/hr. Could be different canvassing companies?

  • John

    This is a bit overly simplistic, but a good “back of the envelope” calculation for appropriate wages is that a worker should be paid about 25% of the economic value of his position. The additional 75% pays for COGS, overhead, etc.

    So if an employee earns $15 per hour, his work should contribute $60 per hour in company revenue. Similarly, a physician that earns $200,000 per year should contribute $800,000 in revenue to the hospital each year.

    In the case of a canvasser, a manager might compare a $15/hour wage worker versus $15 in Facebook advertising. If the canvasser can collect more email addresses than the Facebook advertising can collect “likes,” then the canvasser is a better allocation of resources. Of course, the converse is also true.

    • Shawz

      This logic makes no sense. Why would you have such a rule? What purpose is possibly served by adding exogenous and irrelevant factors such as COGS and overhead into the calculation of the value produced? As an example, if two people make $15/hour, but one takes a $10 COGS and turns it into a $30 item each hour, while another takes a takes a $40 input and turns it into a $60 item, you have them at very different “values”, but in reality the marginal product of each employee is $20. Both of these are equally valuable employees. It’s certainly not the case that the first employee is overpaid because his wage is 50% of the final $30 output, while the second employee is properly paid because his wage is 25% of the $60 output.

    • CRT

      LOL at this silliness. I assume you support CEO’s paying the company money any year the stock price is down?

    • d

      Ha, sounds like this guy took a business class in undergrad with a terrible professor. Compensation as a percentage of revenue varies wildly from industry to industry and even somewhat among companies within the same industry. Your post is overly simplistic to the point of inaccuracy and uselessness.

    • ExWalbridgeGuy

      -1 to this nonsense. Here’s a tip: don’t pay the student loans on whatever education taught you this. The government has programs now where you can get debt forgiveness if you got defrauded into going to a fake school.

      • anon

        The Ayn Rand School of Economics?

  • dd

    Could have been a volunteer?

    • Traveler

      I thought the people getting signatures for this were volunteers… but I may be totally wrong!

      • [rrrrr]

        It’s a mix.

        • Margot

          Ironically some of the people who work on this campaign ARE volunteers. They make minimum wage in their “real” jobs.

          Shockingly hypocritical, I know.

          BTW, does anyone on this blog even know who those “under 15” hour workers are? They’re everywhere in this city. In 1996, I was paid $8 an hour for a telemarketing job. It was considered an unskilled, entry-level, dead-end job.

          That was a good wage back then for a 19 year old. I was baffled to learn that’s what many companies are STILL starting people out at. I am also baffled at home many people think this is ok as long as it isn’t them.

  • Ward One Resident

    Typically campaigns that can pay signature gatherers (not all can and this one is actually using paid gatherers and volunteers) pay by the signature and not by the hour. Typically $1-$2. Not sure what’s actually happening with this campaign, but if they are getting paid by the signature and find a good spot, they are making well over $15 per hour.

  • Milton

    I say Faaa to raising the minimum wage. It should be set at what the market determines. Economic alone should determine this. Milton Friedman nailed this. “There is absolutely no positive objective achieved by the minimum wage law. Its real purpose is to reduce competition for the trade unions and make it easier for them to maintain the higher wages of their privileged members”


    • Accountering

      Well, plenty of economists would disagree with Milton, and the positive objective is that people who work full time, can actually afford to live. Do I believe $15 is the right number everywhere – no, but does $15 in DC make sense, I would say yes.

      • Shawz

        I believe the counterargument is that a minimum wage is an overly blunt tool to solving the problem of people making too little to live. Certainly not everyone in a minimum wage job is attempting to support themselves or their family on that income alone (I know I worked at a minimum wage job as a teenager for beer money) – and we could target welfare subsidies to those particular people who need the money without giving sweeping raises to those who don’t need it, as well as making employment a nonviable option for jobs that produce less than $15/hr in marginal product.

        • textdoc

          “and we could target welfare subsidies to those particular people who need the money” — The trend over the past ~20 years has been for state governments to _decrease_ welfare subsidies and to make qualifying for welfare much more difficult. Targeting welfare subsidies might work in theory, but in the current climate they’re not a viable alternative to raising the minimum wage.

        • Timebomb

          Your childhood experience doesn’t necessarily line up with the matters of the day. If there were enough teenagers working for extra money to keep the Walmart empire afloat, then allowing them to pay $5-7/hour might be fine. In a world where education/extracurricular activities takes up an increasingly large amount of time for kids wealthy enough for work to be optional, and in which these jobs are increasingly being filled by adults with families, targeted welfare of the kind is directly subsidizing Walmart. Also note, there is a lower youth minimum wage that applies to people under 20 years old.

          • textdoc

            And we’re already subsidizing Walmart as it is, since their employees often earn so little that they qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, etc.

        • anon

          This is an intriguing solution. If the govt gave basic income to everyone, then you could get rid of wage minimums. Government provides a solid standard of living, and the private sector provides whatever the market demands as a bonus. At this point you would imagine that few people would take on hard work for low wage jobs anyway.

  • Adam Eidinger

    Dear POP,

    Usually like what you write because its smart, fair and accurate info, but this is a misleading unfair post. You are being just lazy with this kind of reporting as it’s not true. Who is this person you quote? Are you sure they were not just not volunteering or were part of my team who gets paid per signature. That rate is $2.25 per validated signature and many collectors are earning over $20 per hour. Two other teams on the street are paying $15 per hour and thats a fact.

    • U neighbor

      As far as fair and accurate reporting goes, I tend to think of Popville more on the email listserv end of the spectrum. Real journalism involves hitting the streets, interviewing a variety of sources, following certain guidelines on vetting and identifying those sources, etc., which are things that Borderstan, DCist WCP, WaPo, and a bunch of others do well–they show up to community meetings, conduct interviews, etc.
      Dan fills a different need here on Popville, which is to generate conversation. The comments here are usually more active, better moderated, sometimes insightful, usually entertaining. I wouldn’t call this blog “Fair & Balanced”, but I’d say he does a good job in the niche he carved.

      • For the record I’ve offered Adam and all the others who expressed objection to this Dear PoPville the opportunity to respond in the main text of the post. Nobody has chosen to do so for some reason. As I’ve said before I have no agenda in this particular issue. Full disclosure, I signed the thing on Saturday afternoon.

        • U neighbor

          And for the record, you provide a valuable service, so kudos and thank you! Those are just my amateur thoughts on the particular flavor of news we get here as compared to some other blogs/papers. But it’s cool to hear that you reached out.

          • I hear you. I always say PoPville is a hybrid entity. But it’s definitely not a newspaper/hard reporting style that’s for sure. Which isn’t to say we don’t learn a lot, and there isn’t “hard” news often. And much of the “hard” news comes from readers. But as I’ve always said – Edward R. Murrow I do not aspire to be. I also always say – if you have objection/counter view points – just email me and I’ll be happy to post. Some people just like to fight. It can be sport here in DC. Adversaries, imagined or not, must be found!!

        • Philippe Lecheval

          When’s the last time you got together and smoked a spliff with Adam?

    • Fight for DC Bartenders

      Wait wait wait, this is the group that is fighting to end the tipping system and yet they pay their workers $2.25 per signature! HYPOCRISY!!!!!!


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