The Patriotic Millionaires spend a significant amount of time and energy working to change federal policy for the issues we work on. Fighting economic inequality at the national level is the most impactful way to make change – but unfortunately, in many cases, it’s not always the quickest or most effective. Sometimes change has to happen at the state or local level.
Just look at the minimum wage. Despite immense amounts of public support for raising the minimum wage (two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15/hour) and the passage of the Raise the Wage Act in the House of Representatives, a few holdouts in the Senate have totally stonewalled any change to a federal minimum wage that hasn’t been raised in over 13 years.
It’s no surprise that every single Republican Senator opposes the Raise the Wage Act, which would lift the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the subminimum tipped wage. But Republicans aren’t the only obstacles standing in the way. Eight members of the Senate Democratic caucus – Maggie Hassan (NH), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Jon Tester (MT), Joe Manchin (WV), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Chris Coons (DE), Tom Carper (DE), and Angus King (ME) – also refuse to sign onto the Raise the Wage Act.
This is unacceptable. If the Democratic party wants to claim the mantle of “the party of working people,” it needs to start legislating like it. The fact that eight members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate refuse to give millions of workers a much-needed raise is a massive problem, and one that’s not easily fixed.
Fortunately, in the absence of any movement on the federal level, we’re seeing significant progress at the state and local levels. All across the country, we see Americans look around, see that their communities and low-wage workers are suffering, and decide to do what those eight Democratic Senators refuse to do – stand up and take action.
While our Roundup frequently focuses on legislation at the federal level, this week, we want to highlight the fights for better wages happening in states and cities all over America.
In Nebraska, voters will decide whether to approve Initiative 433, which would incrementally increase the minimum wage from its current $9 per hour level to $15 over the next four years. The last time voters approved a minimum wage increase in Nebraska was during the 2014 midterm elections, when they voted to raise hourly pay to $9 by 2016. That measure passed with roughly 60% voter support. There’s a lack of current polling information on this new initiative, but there’s at least one major positive sign indicating it may pass: the petition for the ballot proposal had double the amount of required signatures.
This November, Nevadans will vote on Question 2, a ballot provision that would raise the minimum wage in the Silver State to $12 per hour for all workers by July 2024. Nevada’s current minimum wage is $9.50 per hour if an employer offers health benefits and $10.50 per hour if the employer does not. Question 2 would eliminate this two-tiered system, which many critics say allows employers to offer sub-par health benefits in order to underpay their employees. Nevada voters have a history of approving minimum wage increases, with votes in 2004 passing with 68.4% of the vote, and in 2006 passing with 68.7% approval.
Residents in the District of Columbia will also get a say in the minimum wage debate, specifically as it relates to the District’s tipped workers. Voters will decide on Initiative 82, which would phase out the subminimum wage for employees working for tips. Should the initiative pass, employers would be required to pay $16.10 to tipped employees by 2027, rather than the current tipped wage of just $5.35 an hour. This change would give tipped employees a more reliable, stable source of income (tipped workers are significantly more likely to live in poverty than untipped workers).
This initiative is a repeat of a 2018 proposal, Initiative 77, that was actually approved by voters but ultimately overturned by the City Council in a controversial move that many attributed to the Council’s close ties with the restaurant industry.
Speaking of the city’s restaurant industry, the fight over this proposal has revealed an ugly side to one of America’s most charitable restaurateurs, José Andres. ThinkFoodGroup, the company owned by Andres, has donated $10,000 in an attempt to defeat Initiative 82. It’s unfortunate to see that José Andres’ charitable impulses aren’t so strong when it comes to helping the workers at his own restaurants.
On Wednesday, One Fair Wage held a press conference in Portland, Maine, in support of an initiative that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2025. Question D, brought about through a citizen-initiated referendum conducted by the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, looks to raise the minimum wage beyond its current $13 an hour (projected to raise to $15 in 2024), and perhaps most importantly, eliminate the sub-minimum wage that leaves many of the city’s workers overly reliant on an inherently unstable form of income. This is particularly important in Portland, a city whose restaurants are largely seasonal, with significantly higher traffic in the summer than in the winter. This leaves many tipped workers earning almost nothing for many months out of the year.
We know of one Mainer who should pay close attention to this initiative – Senator Angus King. King has continually voiced his opposition to eliminating the sub-minimum tipped wage, and has made that a sticking point in his refusal to sign onto Democratic efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. Hopefully, a strong showing by the people of Portland in November will convince King to do the right thing.
Background Reading and Resources
Battle Over Wage Rules for Tipped Workers Is Heating Up | The New York Times – Even today, in the midst of a resurgence of labor rights fights, the exploitation of our nation’s subminimum tipped workers runs rampant. This exposé by the New York Times is a thorough take-down of a status quo that leaves tipped workers abused, overworked, and underpaid.
Minimum wage on the ballot | Ballotpedia – In the last 20 years, 100% of statewide ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage have passed – even in “red” states like Montana, Arkansas, and South Dakota and “purple” states like Ohio, Florida, and Arizona.
Most Americans favor a higher federal minimum wage | CBS News poll – Raising the minimum wage is a hugely popular issue among voters of all political stripes. Even if they aren’t low-wage workers themselves, voters don’t have to look far to understand that the minimum wage we have now is just simply not good enough.
MIT Living Wage Calculator – The rapidly increasing costs of necessities, from food to gas to housing, has made the already laughably-low federal minimum wage even more unacceptable. This means that, as it stands, the minimum wage leaves the overwhelming majority of low-wage workers living below the poverty line, unable to adequately provide for themselves or their families. You can use this tool to find what the cost of living is in any state or county in the United States, and what wage is needed to afford a basic standard of living. Spoiler alert – virtually anywhere you look, it’s already higher than $15 an hour.
Wages Are Heading Up, But They’re Not Inflationary – Bloomberg – Arguments trying to make the case that increases in worker compensation are the cause of inflation are absurd. Data clearly shows that wages aren’t meaningfully contributing to inflation – in fact, they’re not even keeping up with it. There is no evidence that increasing the minimum wage would add to America’s inflation problem.