Wage Fight Coming to Congress Finally

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

Newark   Local 100 members sent their petitions into their Congressional delegations in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana at the end of last week.  The Raise the Wages Act is finally coming to debate in the House of Representatives this week.

The bill would raise the federal minimum to $15 per hour over a period of years.  Increases thereafter would be indexed.  The tip credit would finally rise.  There are other bells and whistles, but this is the heart of it.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, put out some numbers which were a mixed blessing for both opponents and advocates.  Potentially, this increase would take as many as twenty-seven million out of poverty over a series of years.  This would be a huge step forward in the fight for greater equity.  That’s the good news.  It also might speed the elimination of 1.2 to 3 million lower-waged jobs.  That’s a political powder keg requiring that politicians be careful lighting matches.

Not that they really care so much about that problem, and not that lower-skilled and lower paid jobs are not in jeopardy already, even at the current level of abysmal wages.  Amazon announced a $700 million retraining program for its staff from warehouse robot-helper to middle-level.  McDonalds is moving to robots and has already installed kiosks in many locations to replace counter help.  Walmart is long on the road to that place as well.  The list goes on and on.

We have 3.7% statistical unemployment, the lowest in 50 years, which in classic economics would seem to demand increases in wages.  We also have a mid-60% labor participation rate, the lowest since 1977, which is an important figure indicating the number of potential workers who have left the workforce and stopped looking, who might also be drawn back in if the money was worth their while.

The Chamber of Commerce understands it cannot prevent an increase forever and floated out its potential compromise which was just to the left of indentured servitude.  They were open to a double-digit minimum wage and realize that it has to increase sometime, but they wanted to keep sub-minimums, continue to try and freeze the tipped credit, and, heck no, to an automatic index.

The Senate is seen as the stumbling block since they can hide behind the CBO report, but people like New Orleans’ own Steve Scalise, Republican House whip, have also dug in their heels in opposition.  Luckily, we can still root for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to try and find a compromise here and thread the needle, even against opposition, left and right, to see if we might get a raise.  Our members need a raise, so we’re pushing, but this might just be the undercard to the real fight in 2022 with a new president replacing Trump who has made this a signature issue.