Members of Congress and workers’ advocates today renewed their push for an increase in the hourly federal minimum wage to $12 – a move that would reflect the recent frenzy of state and local movement on the issue and would mean larger pay checks for 35 million Americans.
Originally sponsored one year ago by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-IL), the Raise the Wage Act also would phase out the “tipped worker” minimum wage of $2.13 – a rate that leaves millions of Americans, overwhelmingly women, in poverty.
On Thursday, Murray and Scott were joined at a well-attended news conference on Capitol Hill by Democratic leadership from both congressional chambers: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senate Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). Also speaking were U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and ROC United spokeswoman Jessica Wynter Martin, a tipped worker who saw her wages plummet when she moved from San Francisco, which has a relatively high minimum wage for tipped workers, to D.C., which does not.
NELP, a Coalition on Human Needs affiliate, and ROC United are leaders of the state and national efforts to raise the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not been raised since 2009.
Owens noted that in the past several years, 51 states and cities have enacted minimum wage increases, led by California and New York. She called this new era “the most exciting and robust fair wage movement this country has seen since 1938,” when the Fair Wage Standards Act was enacted, creating, among other things, an 8-hour work day, a 40-hour work week and certain overtime requirements.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of workers in 300 cities demonstrated in favor of a $15 minimum wage and union rights for workers across the country. In the past three and a half years, an estimated 17 million workers have gotten raises through a combination of new state and local laws, administrative and executive action and voluntary action by private employers.
Perez, who as labor secretary has enthusiastically communicated President Obama’s support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, noted that some local and state entities are moving aggressively to lift up workers, but others are not. “You shouldn’t have to win the geographic lottery in this country to live above the poverty line,” he said.
Indeed, many speakers invoked the reality that minimum wage workers face: They work full-time jobs but live in poverty. “There has always been a bipartisan understanding that nobody who works a full-time job should live in poverty,” Perez noted.
And Pelosi pointed out that raising the minimum wage will help strengthen the nation’s economy because, simply put, well-paid workers will have more income to buy things. “We will never have a recovery in our country unless we lift the wages of our workers,” she said.
The Raise the Wage Act has 174 cosponsors. All are Democrats. Go here to tell your member of Congress to support this legislation.