Milwaukee protest for a raised minimum wage. Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now
Fair pay letter from America #1: unions campaigning for a higher minimum wage
During the past twelve months, US unions have been at the forefront of a fight to raise the minimum wage against opposition from Republican politicians and major employer organisations. Even though most union members earn well above the minimum wage, the AFL-CIO and major unions are leading the fight for the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage from its pitifully low level of $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
In large part because of the tireless efforts of unions and their progressive allies, increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour now enjoys the overwhelming support of the American public, especially in the key battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
It even attracts majority support among self-identified Republican voters: Smart Capitalists for Prosperity, a group led by conservative California businessman Ron Unz and others, have urged Congress to raise the minimum wage, arguing that it would help the economy without affecting job creation. Costco’s Chief Executive has backed the Act. Increasing the wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation is also favored by a majority of small-business owners, according to a poll conducted by the Small Business Majority. However, the National Retail Federation and National Restaurant Association have characterised the proposed increase in the minimum wage as a “job-killer.”
In December, in the latest of a series of one-day strikes supported by unions, MacDonald’s and other fast food workers walked off the job in 100 cities – including in the non-union South – across the country in support of ‘the fight for $15’, the hourly minimum wage that is their target. In March 2014, MacDonald’s employees in New York, California and Michigan filed class action lawsuits alleging wage theft – the denial of overtime pay and rest periods, requiring them to work off the clock and driving wages below legal minimum by forcing them to pay for uniform cleaning – affecting 30,000 current or former employees.
The federal government funds nearly 2 million jobs through private sector contracts that pay less than $12 per hour. Partly in response to the pressure from fast food workers, President Obama has recently enacted an Executive Order for a $10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors hired on new or renegotiated contracts starting in January 2015. It will also raise the pay for disabled and tipped workers (many of whom as paid as low as $2.13 per hour in most states) working under federal contracts. The minimum for tipped workers under federal contracts will increase to $4.90 per hour.
The Order was also a response to at least seven walkouts between May and January by staff at several federal buildings, including food court workers at the Pentagon, Smithsonian museums and other tourist attractions. The protests against low pay were organized by Good Jobs Nation, led by the Change to Win union federation, which has also alleged rampant wage theft at those locations.
And although the President has no direct authority to increase wholly private sector wages, when he signed the Executive Order, he called on private employers, governors and mayors to increase the pay of low-wage workers to at least $10.10, arguing that this was the smart way to boost productivity and reduce employee turnover.