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Reaction: President Barack Obama draws crowd to COSTCO in Lanham

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The crowd assembled at Costco in Lanham, Md. in anticipation of President Obama's arrival. Photo by Ashley Westerman

The crowd assembled at Costco in Lanham, Md. in anticipation of President Obama's arrival. Photo by Ashley Westerman

Published on: Thursday, January 30, 2014

by Alexis A. Goring, Sentinel Lifestyle Reporter


LANHAM, Md --Less than one week, that’s how much time the administration of Costco in Lanham, Md. had to prepare for the arrival of President Obama to their store in Woodmore Towne Center on Wednesday, Jan. 29. But according to Jason Carcione, administration manager for Costco in Lanham, the managers and employees “hunkered down” and did what they needed to do. The result was a seamless event lined with Secret Service agents, police force and K-9s on guard and in supervision of what seemed to be about two hundred community members and Costco employees in attendance.

“It was an exciting event this morning,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy. “The reason why it’s so exciting is because we’re finally paying attention to those who are at the bottom of our economic ladder and giving them an opportunity to enjoy the American Dream just like everybody else.”

President Obama spoke to the crowd, sharing his views on raising the minimum wage and income inequality. Rashawn Ray, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Research Associate for Maryland Population Research Center at University of Maryland in College Park who was not present for the event, shared his views on these issues.

“I’m excited that President Obama is not just endorsing an increase of the minimum wage but actually putting it into effect with federal contract workers, which is obviously what he can control at this point,” said Ray. “Obviously COSTCO becomes important as one of the employers it becomes an example for what increasing the wage of workers can actually do. Costco has very committed workers, they have happier workers but more importantly for business owners or for Costco in particular, Costco has more productive workers.”

Ray thinks increasing the minimum wage is of utmost importance not just for the economy but to shatter stereotypes.

“One of the problems that happen is that most people have a perception that minimum wage workers are very young or that they just don’t care. None of that is true,” said Ray. “These are hard-working Americans who deserve the right to be paid what they’re worth and right now, majority of Americans are being paid under what they’re actually worth and CEO’s are being paid dramatically over what they’re worth. And so we need to re-think and re-orient how we’re going about sustaining the middle class.”

Delegate Braveboy is on board, pushing for House Bill 187 in Annapolis which is legislation she introduced in efforts to raise the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.

“I have the bill in the State House now to raise the minimum wage in Maryland to $10.10,” said Braveboy. “We have 73 supporters and sponsors of the bill and I know that it will fly out of the house and we’re hoping that the Senate will follow suit.”

According to Braveboy, Prince George’s County is a few steps ahead of the rest because they've already raised their minimum wage to $11.50. County Executive Rushern Baker shares Braveboy’s excitement about what’s become known as President Obama’s “$10.10 plan” because it’s a very relevant issue for the state of Maryland, especially in Prince George’s County.  

“I’m excited about having the President here, as always, but especially having him talk about two of the issues that are critical to us in the county—minimum wage and raising it and giving that charge to the state to go ahead and do what we’ve done in Prince George’s and Montgomery County,” said Baker. “But also the fact that he talked about healthcare, a critical issue for us in the county and to do it where we’re a stone’s throw away from where we’re going to put our new hospital, so great day for us!”

Gwendolyn Ferguson, president and CEO of United Communities Against Poverty, manages one of the largest homeless shelters in Prince George’s County. She shared her excitement of being a part of the event.

“I’m excited to be here today because a lot of what President Obama talked about today reflects the individuals we serve in our organization and just to know that there’s an opportunity to work with people in poverty by raising the minimum wage,” said Ferguson. “The families that come into our shelter each and every day, they need the increased income to be able to put food on the table, pay their rent so they don’t end up being in the homeless shelter.”

The store in Lanham was the focus of much media attention on that day. When asked how he thinks the world will see Costco after this broadcast event, Carcione said, “I think we already had a reputation for being a company that takes care of our employees. I think that the President just took advantage of the fact that we already have that reputation to make his point.”

Whether everyone agreed with the points President Obama made or not, most people who spoke to The Sentinel, agreed on this one point about the event at Costco—it was a historic moment in time.

Lashonda Hammonds, a loyal employee of Costco for 25 years, had a front-row view of President Obama’s and appreciates his quest to raise the minimum wage and alleviate income inequality.

“I think that everybody should get paid what they’re worth and be afforded the same opportunities as anyone else,” she said.

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