Young adults work to establish a living wage in Seattle
Written by Emily Schappacher
April 2, 2014

Briana Frenchmore and Jenn Hagedorn at a hearing in Seattle. Photo: Jenn Hagedorn

As President Obama urges Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, and state legislators across the U.S. debate the issue, two young women in Seattle are making significant strides toward helping the city's workers earn a living that will provide them the quality of life all people deserve. Through the United Church of Christ's Young Adult Service Communities program, Jenn Hagedorn and Briana Frenchmore are using their passion for faith and justice to work to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 per hour, which they believe would provide workers a living wage that would allow them and their families to be financially self-sufficient.

"Living wages are not about a number, but about the duty of a community to pay people what they need to live," said Hagedorn, a YASC alumna who currently serves as a social justice liaison at Seattle's Plymouth Church UCC while going to grad school. "It's about sharing the abundance of our communities."

Establishing a living wage is a top priority for the Church Council of Greater Seattle, where Hagedorn served as a YASC intern in 2012 and where Frenchmore currently serves. During her internship, Hagedorn was instrumental in helping employees of SeaTac Airport, an area Walmart and some local hotels get their voices heard, and in crafting the Church Council's Living Wage Principles and other educational materials that inform local congregations about the issue and ways to take action. Frenchmore is now continuing that work, while Hagedorn remains involved through her position at Plymouth Church UCC.

The Church Council's Living Wage Principles state that a living wage is more than just a dollar amount. It also includes access to basic human necessities such as nutrition, shelter, healthcare, transportation, education and good working conditions. The organization supports the idea that a living wage allows workers to lead lives of dignity and participate in the fullness of life that God envisions for all people. The current minimum wage in Washington is $9.32 per hour.

"With the Church Council, our vision is a living wage, and we see raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour as an important step toward the larger living wage vision," Frenchmore said. "It's a pretty holistic vision of what all of our brothers and sisters deserve."

With the help of Frenchmore and Hagedorn, the Church Council provides opportunities for education and advocacy supporting the issue of a living wage. Among other educational efforts, the group held a living wage forum in February, attended by 40 people from 12 area congregations, that featured presentations by local women from the hotel and hospitality industries who shared their experiences of how being paid a living wage has changed their lives. Advocacy work has included actions like letter writing campaigns and opportunities for supporters to attend city council meetings.

Having advocates like Hagedorn and Frenchmore engaged in this conversation is something the Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC, says is unique and effective. He notes how much progress their efforts have made in just a year-and-a-half, and how the conversations the YASC has inspired has helped the wider church move forward and promote economic justice.

"Young adults are disproportionately affected by minimum wage laws, women are disproportionately affected by minimum wage laws, and on top of that, this is an area that is very secular, for the most part," Denton said. "So to have two young women of faith working on this is significant and offers a different voice than what has been typically heard."

In the coming months, a living wage proposal is expected to be introduced by Seattle's mayor, and Hagedorn said it is likely the city will have a living wage ordinance by fall. She is hopeful that Seattle's legislation will be a catalyst that will inspire other cities in the U.S. to take similar steps to provide their residents with wages that will allow them a life of dignity and respect.

"I'm just excited that people are talking about it at all," Hagedorn said. "It has been incredible to go from telling people that I'm working on the issue of living wages and having almost everyone in my life say, 'What's that?' to it being common knowledge."

"This year I'm reflecting a lot on the quality of jobs that are available, and when you start looking at jobs, you start looking at the whole economic system," Frenchmore adds. "Working for the minimum wage starts leading me to ask a lot more questions."

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Ms. Emily Schappacher
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