President Obama made a trip to Costco in Glenarden Jan. 29, not to shop, but to discuss raising the federal minimum wage.
Obama drew loud cheers and thunderous applause as he spoke to about 80 employees from the around the region. He arrived at the invitation-only event just before10:30 a.m. as dozens of people stood outside in the sub-freezing temperatures craning their necks to get a peek at him.
“I just want to see him!” said J.J. Martin, 25, who drove into Prince George’s from Alexandria to see the president. “I hoped I could get in, but even seeing his car would be enough for me!”
Obama made the trip to the store the day after he announced plans during the State of the Union Address to enact by executive order a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 from the current $7.25 per hour for any company involved in a government contract. During his speech Jan. 28, he urged local government officials around the country to increase the wage in their jurisdictions.
His message was the same at Costco.
"…I firmly believe, it's time to get America a raise,” Obama told the group, drawing cheers and thunderous applause. “If you work hard, you should be able to pay your bills, buy groceries and look after your kids."
Before Obama spoke, Maryland Gov. Martin J. O' Malley (D) told the audience that a hike in the federal minimum would lead to job creation.
"The most important progress that we can make is the progress of creating new jobs," he said.
O’Malley started a chant "Its time to raise the wage! It’s time to raise the wage! It’s time to raise the wage!”
He then introduced Teresa Allen, a supervisor in the Glenarden store, who introduced Obama.
Allen introduced herself and told her story. Her entire family works at Costco, including her son and her daughter who worked there as a teenager and is now a physician. She said she has worked at the company for 25 years.
“It’s my honor and privilege to be here today to introduce Mr. President Barack Obama!” The presidential theme song played loudly and Obama, in his shirt sleeves, bounded onto the platform.
“Thank you, Teresa!” he said, hugging her. Her coworkers cheered.
While the message of pay hikes and jobs was not lost on them, employees who were fortunate enough to attend the event were more taken by meeting Obama than they were helping him in his federal minimum wage hike campaign.
“This is one of the most exciting events I have ever been to,” Terri Campbell, 31, of Brandywine told the AFRO before the event the started. “I can’t wait to finally see my president in person and hear him speak, especially when he’s talking about something that involves me. Couldn’t ask for [a] better opportunity.”
After his speech, Obama shook hands with most of the employees, before heading out.
Costco worker Perry Atkinson, 23, came from Wheaton in Montgomery County.
“Seeing him in person was different than seeing him on TV,” Atkinson said. “The energy he brings is hard to articulate, but you understand how you make a difference.”
Domanick Arnold, 22, of Hyattsville, had a huge smile on his face.
“I was so excited to see him, Arnold said. “This was my first time seeing him in person. I feel like he made some good points. I do feel people need to make more money in order to take care of their families.”
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said he was pleased that Obama chose Prince George’s for such an important appearance.
“We are very pleased that the minimum wage is being raised, and we’re pleased that Prince George’s County is leading the way,” he said. Prince George’s officials approved a minimum wage hike a few weeks ago.
Glenarden Police Chief Philip O’Donnell said 50 or 75 spectators stood outside to see the president.
“Everything was right on time,” he said. “Everything was peaceful. There were no incidents.”