Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the most prominent Democratic opponent of a $15 federal minimum wage, has a financial stake in at least one company that apparently would have to increase pay if such a measure passed, TYT has learned.
The Senate parliamentarian said last week she does not think the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is eligible for passage by a simple majority if it includes the hourly wage increase. Her guidance shifted the focus of progressive efforts from Manchin to Vice President Kamala Harris, who could reject the parliamentarian’s finding.
But Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), could find himself back in the spotlight if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) succeeds in forcing a vote this week on the $15 minimum wage, as he has vowed to do. Manchin has said he would accept an $11 hourly minimum wage as part of coronavirus relief, but progressives have said that's not enough.
Last month, a spokesperson for Manchin justified his opposition to the $15 minimum by saying the senator “understands the challenges facing…[West Virginia] small business owners.” But Manchin has not publicly acknowledged that he is one of those small business owners.
The real extent of his business interests is unclear, as Manchin has never fully disclosed them as required on his Senate ethics filings. The right-wing group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which does not disclose its donors, filed an ethics complaint in 2018 seeking to force Manchin to disclose the full specifics of his business holdings.
But court filings related to bankruptcy proceedings and a Manchin family dispute that went public have identified some of companies in which Manchin allegedly has a financial stake, including a hotel and a chain of flooring stores. Both companies would apparently have to increase employee pay if Congress passes a $15 minimum wage.
The senator’s office did not respond to TYT’s request for comment, which included specifics about the companies in which he is said to have a stake.
Thanks to legal filings in a bankruptcy dispute, however, we do know some of the holdings of one company Manchin lists in his disclosure form. That company, AA Property, is reportedly 50 percent controlled by Manchin, and is an investor in Emerald Coast Realty, which owns a La Quinta hotel in Elkview, West Virginia.
According to the careers website Indeed.com, the national average salary for several La Quinta positions is well below $15 an hour. If Manchin’s $11 proposal were to win out, La Quinta hotel housekeepers, for instance, would get an average raise of eight cents an hour nationwide.
Manchin has said that an $11 minimum wage is reasonable for West Virginia. The state currently has a mandatory minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. At the Elkview La Quinta, Indeed reports that housekeepers make an average of $8.81 an hour.
Brianna Griffith, an unemployed West Virginia resident, told the Associated Press last month that with a $15 hourly wage, "I could afford to live on my own... I could afford to buy a car that's not 25 years old. We just really need help here."
Manchin’s interest in another West Virginia company is a matter of dispute — between his brothers. According to a lawsuit filed by his brother John, the senator and other Manchin family members “owned, controlled, and operated Manchin Carpet Center… [which] currently exists as Wholesale Carpet Outlet.” The store, which was incorporated and is now run by a third brother, Roch Manchin, has four locations, serving parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
Reached by phone, John Manchin said he could not disclose the senator’s business holdings, due to a non-disclosure agreement signed in the wake of his lawsuit.
In an email, TYT asked WCO about both its wages and Joe Manchin’s alleged financial interest. WCO responded, saying, “We wanted you to know that Senator Manchin does not nor has he ever had any interest in WCO flooring.”
It’s not clear, however, whether Manchin might have an indirect stake in WCO through another entity, or through his business dealings with Roch, some of which were outlined in their brother’s lawsuit. Contemporary news reports of the lawsuit do not appear to include denials by Manchin of a stake in WCO. And there was at least one previous instance when Manchin’s financial interests in a company were in dispute or unclear, even to Manchin himself.
WCO did not respond to TYT’s inquiry about its pay levels. However, federal records show that WCO received a $238,500 loan as part of the Payroll Protection Program, disclosing some financial information in the process. The financial data includes both headcount and monthly payroll estimates that determined loan eligibility — but also give some idea of employee salaries.
According to an analysis by FederalPay.org, WCO would have had an estimated $1.14 million monthly payroll to qualify for its loan. Averaging that amount over the 50 employees WCO reported translates to an average annual salary of $22,896, the website estimated. (Because the government did not factor employee compensation above $100,000 into its loan-eligibility calculation, WCO’s actual average pay could be higher.)
If the FederalPay analysis is accurate, however, and assuming two weeks of paid vacation, it would mean WCO pays its workers an average hourly rate of $11.01, or one cent more than Manchin’s proposed minimum wage.
Neither WCO nor the La Quinta appear on Manchin’s ethics filing, but Manchin does list multiple joint-ownership entities, such as Manchin Properties and MPM Properties, with financial holdings that are not disclosed.
Manchin has other business interests — with stakes in coal and energy companies such as Farmington Resources and Enersystems — but financial information that might reveal employee compensation levels is not publicly available. Manchin and his wife also have financial interests in other companies that may pay some employees less than $15 an hour, including bank shares valued at more than half a million dollars.