Swedish furniture giant Ikea is wading into the contentious American minimum-wage debate by raising pay in its U.S. stores.
Ikea US will boost the average minimum hourly wage across its 38 retail locations to $10.76 beginning Jan. 1, 2015. That’s a 17 percent bump from its current $9.17-an-hour starting wage, and $3.51 above the federal minimum.
“The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience,” said Ikea’s acting U.S. president, Rob Olson. “We wanted to be less concerned about the competition and more concerned about offering our co-workers a better everyday life.”
Nearly half of the company’s 13,651 American employees, full and part-time, will get a raise. Executives said the policy is a departure from that of most other companies, which generally aim to pay employees at roughly the same rates as their rivals.
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The federal minimum wage has not changed from $7.25 an hour since 2009. President Obama is campaigning for legislation that would boost the wage to $10.10 an hour.
But critics worry that such a lift could stifle job growth by raising the cost of labor, driving companies to hire fewer workers and boost productivity through technology.
But higher wages would also likely spur more spending by workers, potentially giving businesses more revenues to pay their staffs.
Since 2012, fast-food workers and their supporters have organized a series of wide-ranging strikes and rallies calling for a minimum wage as high at $15 an hour.
So far this year, 38 states have considered minimum-wage bills, and eight states and Washington, D.C., have pushed through new wage laws, according to the University of California-Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
Earlier this month, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously for a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The International Franchise Association is challenging the decision with a federal lawsuit that accuses the new rule of discriminating against franchisees and treating them as large, national companies instead of as small, local businesses.
In California, San Francisco, Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and San Diego have all weighed citywide increases to more than $10 an hour.
On July 1, the minimum wage in the state will increase to $9 an hour from $8 — where it has stayed since 2008. In 2016, the wage will rise again to $10 an hour.
But in a report this week, the UC-Berkeley researchers questioned how far the boost will go, projecting that $10 in 2016 will be equivalent to $9.54 in today’s dollars, or $8 by 2023.
In February, Gap said it would raise its hourly minimum wage to $9 this year and $10 by 2015.