Raise the Wage Act

Washington    Landing in President Trump’s “swamp” in Washington early in the morning, I turned on my phone for email.  There was an ACTION ALERT!  I knew it was important, because it was all in capital letters, the universal signal for emergency.  Scanning quickly, it was not an emergency for me at all, but a panic email from the National Restaurant Association.  They wanted everyone to bombard their Congressional representatives with messages, and to do it PDQ, pretty darned quick. Why?  The Raise the Wage Act is coming up for a vote in July.

The Raise the Wage Act is the bill that would finally raise the federal minimum wages after a decade of being frozen in place.  The proposal would boost the wage from its current nadir of $7.25 per hour to $15 by the year 2024, a five-year period.  And, oh my goodness, this NRA, not the ones with guns, but the ones with spatulas, was horrified that one of their most oppressive accomplishments of the past, freezing the tip credit, was going to be totally abolished.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful!  Heck, it might even pass this time.  Pass the House of Representatives that is.  No chance in the Senate, but maybe, just maybe there’s the possibility with the election coming up, and Trump perhaps thinking he should deliver something to this left-behind base he likes to claim as a populist, that he might jump on the bandwagon for a bit of a raise.  Probably, not for eliminating the tip credit, which allows servers to be paid a tad over $2 per hour with tips making up the rest, but, you know, maybe something.

Why do I get these emails?  Another good question!  Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, our social enterprise in New Orleans supporting organizing, offering 100% fair trade products, and a community center of sorts in the neighborhood, has to be licensed to operate.  There’s no special coffeehouse license of course, so we have a restaurant license, which is fine by us, but that also means we have to have someone with a SafeServ license and of course the Restaurant Association, like most business unions, has created a monopoly there on the training and certification, so, voila, we get the constant barrages from the NRA, archenemy of living wages forever and ever.

Maybe they shouldn’t worry so much.  The National Employment Labor Project (NELP), one of the good soldiers in this fight in Washington issued a report on wage theft as I hit the ground as well.  We know the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has been eviscerated with budget and staffing cuts, so there wouldn’t be a world of enforcement on minimum wages anyway, so it would be left to the states.  The vast majority of states do not have adequate laws to protect workers who report wage theft, according to the National Employment Law Project study. Only six states — Arizona, California, Florida, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia — provide “essential retaliation protections” for wage theft, while six others don’t have laws on the books on the books at all.

Even if we win this battle in whole or in part, there’s a larger war that we all have to fight continuously.  Meanwhile, do I as I do, not as the NRA says, and call or write your Congressperson and ask them to vote for the Raise the Wage Act, and damn the torpedoes.

***

Please enjoy Rising Appalachia Featuring Ani DiFranco

and Matt Woods’ Jailbird Song.

Thanks to KABF.

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Minimum Wage Gaps Growing

New Orleans      There are twenty-one states where workers are still frozen at something equivalent to the federal minimum wage at $7.25.  Those states are disproportionately better “red than fed” in the South and West with a smattering in the Midwest and even the Northeast.

I’m not saying there are any surprises here, but the line-up is a rogues list of woe for workers:  In the South, count Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia for nine of the twenty-two.  In the West, we have Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming adding another six.  The Midwest is sadly also very well represented with Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin for their four while the East adds two with Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.  The gap between these twenty-one states, along with several others that are hovering right near them like Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and even Illinois, is widening the inequality gap not only between the rich and the rest of us, but even between low-and-moderate income families and their counterparts in other states.

Even with a Democratic governor, it’s not an easy road.  In Louisiana, John Bel Edwards has been turned back by the Republican-dominated legislature three times that he has tried to raise the state minimum wage.  It’s gotten so bad that a state constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour, if approved by the voters, has even picked up support from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  There were recent efforts to allow cities to set their own rates apart from the state level by vacating a law passed after an ACORN and Local 100 effort won an increase twenty years ago at the ballot box.

These issues were  highlighted in an analysis in the New York Times that talked about the effective rate across the country is now wildly different than the federal standard as other, very populated states, like New York and California, along with major cities like Seattle have raised their wages.

Averaging across all of these federal, state and local minimum wage laws, the effective minimum wage in the United States — the average minimum wage binding each hour of minimum wage work — will be $11.80 an hour in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, this is probably the highest minimum wage in American history.  In 21 states where the minimum wage is still frozen, workers have lost 16% of their buying power.

Furthermore, as their analysis also indicated the main business boogeyman held up as the rationale for keeping wages abysmally low has also continued to erode:

a huge study released in April analyzed 138 different state-level minimum wage increases since 1979. The authors found largely no net negative employment effects, though they did find some in sectors exposed to international trade. And University of Washington economists revised an initial study of Seattle’s recent minimum wage increase that had showed significant negative effects on earnings for some workers. The new study found that the downsides were more muted.

Wrap your mind around this inequity.  If the “effective” national rate is $11.80 per hour now, then workers in these twenty-one states at $7.25 are almost hopelessly underpaid.  A national worker at fulltime hours would be making $24,544 annually, while workers in the left-behind states would make $15,080 fulltime, which is $9464 per year or almost 63% less that the theoretical national worker.  Of course, left-behind state workers actually are farther behind, because the national effective rate was an average after the rest of us pulled the really higher paid hourly workers down closer to our level, making their premium look and spend even more.  Furthermore, since the rate has changed, minimum wage workers are losing purchasing power even as others are gaining.

This kind of inequity at the bottom is as unjust as the gap between all workers now in America and the rich, and should be the easiest part of the inequality gap to eliminate, especially if Congress would act for everyone rather than mainly the rich as well.

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