Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Action Alert: Raise the Wage!

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages …” (Jer. 22:13)

While the value of the minimum wage in 1968 is equivalent to $10.79 in 2015 dollars[1], the current federal minimum wage remains at $7.25, last increased by Congress in 2007 with the final increase taking effect in 2009. Contrary to popular rhetoric that this wage primarily impacts teenagers, eighty-eight percent of minimum-wage workers are over twenty years old; fifty-six percent of them are women.[2]

Two weeks ago, Senator Patty Murray (WA) and Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA) introduced the Raise the Wage Act (S.1150/H.R. 2150) to address this issue.

This legislation, if enacted, would

• Raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020, starting with an increase to $8.00 an hour in 2016
• Gradually eliminate the tipped-industry loophole, which has allowed employers of tipped workers to pay a subminimum wage of only $2.13 per hour to tipped staff since 1991; and
• Index the minimum wage to median income, so as to maintain its value to low-wage workers and provide stability and predictability for employers.

Why the Minimum Wage is Important

One of the most notable parts of this legislation is its elimination of the tipped wage, which has created a sub-class of minimum wage workers. Tipped workers are more than two times as likely as other workers to experience poverty.[3] In no other industry are wages determined by customer satisfaction or mood.[4] Furthermore, there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure employers close the gap for employees whose tips do not reach the $7.25/hour threshold (the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to make up the difference between their workers’ after-tip income and $7.25 per hour). [5] Seven states have already leveled the playing field for tipped workers. [6]

This Raise the Wage Act would impact 38 million workers, particularly benefiting women and people of color who disproportionately live in poverty. Thirty-two percent of women in the workforce would see their paychecks increase; thirty-seven percent of African American workers and forty percent of Hispanic workers would see a rise in their paychecks. Twenty-four percent of all U.S. children (18.7 million) have a parent who would get a raise.[7]

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have already raised their minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, recognizing the inadequacy of the federal minimum wage. Moreover, twenty cities have also risen to the challenge to raise the wage.[8]

The time is now. Call on your Congressional members to act to #RaisetheWage.

Higher Minimum wage is Key to Ending Poverty

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports social safety net programs and tax credits that help to lift people out of poverty, but it has spoken out about the necessity of a living wage as a foundation for a healthy economy and society.

The 183rd General Assembly (1977) “….Reaffirm[ed] the actions of previous General Assemblies supporting the right of every employable person to a job, decent and safe working conditions, and a salary adequate to meet at least his or her basic needs.” 

In 2006, the 217th General Assembly called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, saying that our society should have the “the goal of a wage level sufficient to lift full-time workers out of poverty.”[9]

Even though $12 per hour is not a living wage for many workers, this legislation is a step in the right direction. Congress will no longer have to act to raise the wage. Instead, the minimum wage will increase yearly according to the “annual percentage increase in the median hourly wage of all employees as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”[10]

Supporting Striking Federal Contract Workers

Currently, federal contract workers in Washington, D.C., earn the federal minimum wage, despite the city’s recent wage increase to $10 per hour, rising to $11.50 per hour in 2016.[11] The Office of Public Witness Director J. Herbert Nelson, has joined with local workers to call on the federal government to set an example for businesses in its respect for workers’ rights and a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

In recent years, Nelson has participated in several strikes with federal contract workers who have been organizing for a living wage of $15 an hour, protections against wage theft, reliable work schedules, and the protection of collective bargaining. President Obama has responded with Executive orders raising the wage on new contracts to $10.10 per hour and protecting workers against wage theft. The President still has the opportunity to issue executive orders giving contract preferences to employers to create good jobs and collectively bargain with their workforce.

Nelson spoke at a ‘Good Jobs Nation’ event on April 22, declaring, “But now I say – I want my tax dollars to create good jobs – with livable wages, benefits, paid sick days, safe workplaces, reliable schedules, and the right to bargain collectively for the good of the whole.”

Read his full remarks here