US Labor secretary urgers higher minimum wage

CAMBRIDGE—US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on Thursday met with local business owner to further urge Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, arguing it would help companies attract and retain workers, and lead to greater productivity.

Perez, participating in a discussion with seven small business owners at Cambridge Naturals, a 40-year-old shop that sells nutritional, organic supplements, also said a higher minimum wage would help lift some families out of poverty and provide a boost to the US economy. Many economists say a higher minimum wage would lead to increased consumer spending, which drives the national economy.

“Regrettably, today there are people working 40 or 50 hours and living below the poverty line. That’s not America,” Perez said. “That’s why Americans deserve a raise.”

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Increasing the minimum wage has emerged as a key issue both nationally and in Massachusetts. President Barack Obama has proposed raising he federal minimum wage to $10.10 from the current $7.25 and hour. In Massachusetts, the Legislature is considering increasing the state minimum wage, now $8 an hour, toe $10.50

The state Senate has passed a bill to increase the state minimum wage. On Thursday, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said he supported an increase to $10.50 by the middle of 2016.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it would impose additional costs on businesses and slow job creation. But In Cambridge, Perez spoke with seven local business owners who pay their workers more than minimum wages. They included the owners of Cambridge Naturals, Michael Kanter and Elizabeth Stagl, who pay their employees $11-$15 an hour.

In a roundtable discussion, the business owners told Perez that paying higher wages not only helps the local economy, by giving workers more to spend, but also helps them attract and retain quality workers.

“Retention is everything,” Stagl said. “The brain drain when someone walks out that door is enormous. The goal is to retain people.”