‘We need $15’: US minimum wage ruling a personal blow for millions of workers
Workers have criticized setback and are pushing elected officials to figure out a way to still pass a $15 federal minimum wage ‘If we made $15 an hour, that would be a night and day difference,’ said Bill Thompson. Photograph: M Spencer Green/AP Bill Thompson, 50, has worked in food service in Independence, Missouri, for over 30 years. He currently works at Burger King, making $10.30 an hour. With his current wages, he avoids seeking medical care because of the costs, and explained his family has struggled to afford basic necessities. He’s one of many low-wage workers around the US who have been organizing and fighting for a $15 minimum wage at the federal level and at local and state levels since the Fight for $15 and a Union movement began in 2012. In a setback for the movement, on 25 February the Senate parliamentarian ruled the minimum wage increase as written currently cannot remain in the coronavirus relief bill under Senate rules, and the White House noted Kamala Harris, in her role presiding over the Senate, will not attempt to overrule the parliamentarian. For Thompson – and millions of American workers like him – the news is a personal blow. “If we made $15 an hour, that would be a night and day difference. It doesn’t mean I’m going to have savings, it just means I’m going to have more financial resources to afford to have food on the table and my drug prescriptions,” said Thompson. “I have to choose between going to the doctor and buying medicine or putting food on my table, or buying a new pair of shoes.” Democrats have pushed to include a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage by 2025 in the coronavirus relief bill, though Joe Biden expressed skepticism the $15 minimum wage will make it into the final coronavirus relief bill and noted he is open to delaying the phased increase. Workers have criticized the ruling and are pushing elected officials to figure out a way to still pass a $15 federal minimum wage. “We will not be deterred by an archaic Senate process that throughout history has been used to delay or deny progress for Black and brown communities while allowing multitrillion-dollar tax cuts for corporations,” said Maribel Cornejo, a McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 and a Union leader in Houston, Texas, in a statement. Cornejo added: “Winning elections means talking to voters about the issues that matter to their lives and then delivering on those promises. Voters don’t want to hear excuses about process, procedures or parliamentarians. We want a job that pays us a living wage. We want dignity at work. We want and we need $15.” Cynthia Murray, a Walmart associate for nearly 20 years and United for Respect leader in Maryland who testified in front of the Senate on 25 February, added: “When are they going to stand up and stand for the workers and change the minimum wage? It’s been 12 years.” The president of SEIU International, the leading organization behind the Fight for $15 movement, Mary Kay Henry, argued the ruling was no excuse to delay increasing the minimum wage. “Essential workers have put their lives on the line throughout the pandemic and now elected leaders must meet their demands to be respected, protected and paid,” Henry said in a statement. “Every single healthcare provider, fast-food worker, janitor, security officer and public servant who have kept our communities afloat for the past year needs real Covid relief that includes $15 – and Congress needs to get it done.” In response to the parliamentarian ruling, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders announced his intention to include an amendment in the relief bill to take away tax deductions from large, profitable corporations that do not pay a $15 an hour minimum wage. House Democratic leaders have announced the $15 minimum wage bill will remain in the coronavirus relief package that is expected to pass today and be sent to the Senate. Two-thirds of Americans support a $15 minimum wage according to 2019 polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, and more recent surveys have shown seven in 10 Americans support raising the minimum wage. Republicans and business industry groups have argued increases to minimum wage results in job losses and hurts small businesses, but data over 22 previous federal minimum wage increases since 1938 show there is no correlation between minimum wage increases and job losses. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 would provide a raise to 32 million workers who otherwise struggle to meet basic living expenses.