Minimum wage hike drive moves into high gear

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The labor-backed campaign to raise the minimum wage resumed the week of April 13, as the "Raise The Wage" bus headed for more states, while Maryland became the second state to enact a multi-year hike of the wage to $10.10 an hour.

The bus will head for Nevada, Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Iowa, said Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change, the labor-backed coalition that sponsored the vehicle's prior caravan to more than a dozen states.

Meanwhile workers can mobilize to urge federal lawmakers to raise the wage, as Congress left town for home states on April 10, starting its Passover-Easter break.

The U.S. minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, has not increased since the middle of the GOP Bush administration. Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and veteran Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., are pushing legislation to raise it to $10.10 hourly by 2016, in three 95-cent hikes, and then index it to inflation.

They also would raise the wage for "tipped workers" - servers and others who depend on tips - in stages from $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the regular minimum. The tipped wage hasn't increased in more than 20 years.

Unions strongly support raising the minimum wage. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler notes 70 percent of minimum-wage workers are women, most of them single parents. The average minimum-wage worker is aged 30. Half are college grads.

But Republicans, in both Congress and the states, are blocking the increases where they can, though polls show majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents support a hike. "The Republicans can get on the train and raise the minimum wage or be kicked off the train and let the Democrats do it," Americans United for Change Executive Director Brad Woodhouse told an April 7 phone press conference.

Despite GOP opposition, the overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland legislature raised the wage to $10.10 hourly, but spread the hike over five years. It also did not index the increase. That follows a decision by the two big Maryland suburban counties around D.C. to join with the capital and raise the wage on their own, even more.

In GOP-run Nebraska and Florida lawmakers aren't on the train, senators said.

Nebraska State Sen. Jeremy Norquist reported that a minimum wage hike failed there on a 20-20 tie vote. The Nebraska senate - its only legislative body - is 2-to-1 Republican. Now organized labor and its allies will gather signatures to put the increase on the November ballot, he added. It needs 120,000 names. "Even in a conservative state like Nebraska, we're seeing great public support," Norquist added.

Florida State Sen. Dwight Bullard said a minimum-wage hike bill will be introduced this year, and he hopes to get it to the floor this year, too. If not, Bullard plans to bring it up next year.

"Our current minimum wage is $7.93 and the tipped wage" - in a tourism-dependent state - "is $4.65. We've seen efforts to reduce that," he said.

Photo: Give America a Raise bus tour stop in Louisville, Ky., April 1. Secretary of State of Kentucky Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke. Give America a Raise website.

 

 

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