Report says Virginia is worst state for workers

One local business explains why worker treatment has led to success

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – A new report is adding to the conversation about the treatment of workers in Virginia.

The poverty group Oxfam America ranked Virginia as the worst state in America for workers, saying it looked at labor laws and pay. Scroll down to read more about the report.

Lawmakers 10 News spoke with said conditions could certainly improve, but one local small business has succeeded in making its employees feel appreciated, citing its company philosophy.

10 News checked in with Prestar Packaging in Christiansburg this week. President Anne Chrisman said the company she and her husband Craig started has had a lot of success since 10 News last reported on its progress in 2016.

“We are very fortunate, very blessed, and sales are growing. We're picking up new customers,” she said.

Chrisman believes a key part of the company's success has been keeping its workers happy.

“We treat them like family. We're a small company and we treat them as if they were our children, our brothers or sisters, and we do the best we can for them,” she said.

Shanon Thomas, one of the plant’s 17 employees, said it’s a great place to work. She’s been there for four years.

“There are places that pay more but the benefits of a close-knit family and how they take care of us -- it's like a family, honestly -- that outweighs it, I think,” Thomas said.

She said she’s worked at larger companies where she felt like just a number. Unlike at other plants, shifts at Prestar are five days a week, only during the day, and workers have flexibility with taking vacation time.

But Chrisman admits larger companies have some advantages over Prestar, most notably -- wages.

“Being a small company, we don't pay the best. We don't have the best benefits, but we do the very best we can. Longevity is something that we have out there with our employees,” she said.

She said one man just hit 20 years at the plant, three shy of the company’s lifespan.

Last month, the company got a second patent, a rarity in the packaging field. That ensures that they’re the only ones making their unique gift card folders, which they designed.

In the last 11 years, Prestar Packaging has sold more than 7.5 million gift card boxes, a product for which the company received its first patent. Those boxes have gone to clients in the U.S. and 15 other countries. The business also specializes in candy and board game boxes, among other products.

Lawmakers, including longtime state Senator John Edwards, say Virginia’s economy is doing well but many workers aren’t.

“Virginia is a very business-friendly state. It has a strong right-to-work law, which I anticipate will continue, but it's not a very good state for people at the low end of the income level,” he said.

Edwards, a Democrat, is in favor of increasing the minimum wage and said the party may try again to pass a bill on that next year.

The Republican Party has opposed that move for years. Republicans 10 News reached out to didn't get back to us before our deadline or declined to comment.

10 News asked viewers what they think of the report and if they’re in favor of an increase to the minimum wage. The results can be found here.

According to a new report released earlier this month, Virginia is the worst state in America for workers. A ranking from Oxfam America, a poverty group, assesses labor laws and pay.

The group looked at the ratio of the minimum wage to the living wage. For Virginia, the minimum wage is 26 percent of the living wage for a family of four.

The group also examined state labor laws and worker protections, including wage policies that ensure workers earn as close to a living wage as possible; worker protections for sickness, pregnancy and sexual harassment; and the right to form unions.

Oxfam America’s U.S. director says legislators in some states are not working to improve workers’ wages and rights.

The group ranked Washington D.C. first. Washington, California and Massachusetts also ranked at the top of the list. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are at the bottom with Virginia.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show employment is increasing in Virginia. Employment levels increased in all Virginia metro areas from last July to this July.

Roanoke saw a 1.3 percent increase, there was a 1.2 percent increase in Lynchburg and a 0.4 percent increase in the New River Valley, according to the agency’s data.