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What’s behind MOM’s decision to hike its minimum wage

Organic produce at MOM's Organic Market. (file)

Organic produce at MOM’s Organic Market. (file)

An advocate for a higher minimum wage, MOM’s Organic Market’s founder says the store is trying to lead by example.

The Rockville-based grocery chain announced that it’s increasing it minimum wage to $12 per hour, placing it on the higher end of the spectrum for average grocery store salaries.

“This is not an act of charity, but rather an investment,” said Scott Nash, founder and CEO of MOM’s. “Without a doubt, our most valuable asset here at MOM’s is our people.”

According to PayScale, Trader Joe’s posts the highest average yearly salary in the grocery industry at $24,000, or about $12 an hour. In general, pay in the industry varies from $19,000 a year, about $9.50 per hour, to as much as $45,000, or $22.50 an hour, depending on the company and position. The lowest reported compensation on PayScale was at Kroger, where the median salary is about $17,000, or $8.50 an hour, and the pay range varied from $15,000 to $28,000.

Nash has been a staunch advocate for raising the minimum wage. In April, he testified before Congress at a forum held by the Education and Workforce Committee, which included other business leaders who support a higher minimum wage. Nash has also written a blogs posts and editorials on the subject.

In business since 1987, MOM’s has 15 locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., employing 1,000 people.

MOM's Organic Market. (File)

MOM’s Organic Market. (File)

When asked why he supports a $12 minimum wage, Nash said it’s a good place to start.

“Twelve dollars, it’s a good stepping stone,” said Nash in an interview with The Daily Record, days after he testified on Capitol Hill.

Nash knows that in the business community, his stance on a minimum wage is unique.

“This is how most businesses operate,” he said. “They don’t understand that being a socially responsible business is a win-win.”

Economists and opponents of minimum wage increases have argued that it may give businesses more incentive to reduce labor costs and automate services, essentially harming workers.

But Nash feels differently.

“The best capital investment we can make is in our people,” he said.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced a bill last month for a $15 minimum wage similar to legislation recently passed in California and New York. An increase would raise the pay of 80,000 workers in Baltimore, or 25 percent of the city’s workforce.

Nash said while $15 seemed like a high number, he would be on board with that increase. MOM’s has one store in Baltimore.

In 2014, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to gradually raise the state’s minimum to $10.10 by July 2018. The current state minimum wage is $8.25, with a 50-cents-an-hour increase set for July 2016. On the local level, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have passed bills to raise their minimum wages to $11.50 by 2017.