Friday, February 14, 2014
Green Party community activist Liane Gale challenges Congressmembers Keith Ellison and Rick Nolan when they advocate maintaining a poverty Minimum Wage
Nolan and Ellison join local push for higher Minnesota minimum wage
- Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
- October 14, 2013
Low-income advocates pressing for a higher minimum wage told two Minnesota congressmen Monday that they are falling farther behind on their bills and that the American dream is increasingly out of reach.
“I have paid my taxes and gone to college, yet here I am making $7.25 an hour,” said Darcy Landau, an airport worker. “I owe $80,000 in student loans, and am between a rock and a hard place.”
Advocates are intensifying pressure on Minnesota legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, up from a $6.15 base hourly wage for large employers. The fight to raise the minimum wage stands to be one of the most high-profile issues of the upcoming legislative session.
DFLers control the Legislature, and most agree that the state’s base wage should be higher, but they can’t agree how high.
Many rural DFLers don’t want to raise it so high that it hurts businesses in border communities, where rival businesses in neighboring states could gain a price advantage from paying lower wages.
Many Republicans and business groups have fought hard against raising the wage, saying companies will have to operate with fewer workers at the higher wage.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a DFLer who represents northern Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, said the nation’s economy is evolving rapidly in a way that hurts workers at the bottom end of the wage scale.
“The rich are getting rich, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are getting crushed,” Nolan told the crowd at a community center in south Minneapolis. “It is the tax policy, the allocation of money in the budget and of course it is the minimum wage. That is the best place to start.”
At $6.15 per hour, Minnesota has one of the nation’s lowest minimum wages. Most Minnesota employers are required to meet the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. About 93,000 Minnesotans earn at or below the federal minimum wage.
Enrique Barcenas, a contract cleaner at a local retailer, said he and others have approached management about raises. While managers remain sympathetic, he said, wages have remained the same.
“With a wage of $8, it is impossible to survive,” Barcenas said. “Words don’t mean much to us because words don’t put food on the table.”
Nolan and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a DFLer who represents Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.50 an hour.
“You have got to be able to feed your family working one job,” Ellison said. “It’s a matter of political will and the decisions we have made that allowed us to drift away from the American dream.”
Ellison urged attendees to contact their state legislators and press for a higher wage. He said the GOP plan of lowering government spending and driving down wages “doesn’t work. It failed.”
Liane Gale, a Green Party activist, criticized Nolan and Ellison for not pressing for an even higher wage, something closer to what many consider a living wage.
“Nine-fifty will not lift anybody out of poverty,” Gale said. “Nine-fifty is not addressing the dignity of any worker here in Minnesota.”
Ellison told the audience that people can debate what the minimum wage should be, “but can we all agree and can we all convince our neighbors to agree the minimum wage needs to go up?”
Gale was not convinced, interrupting: “This is a one-shot opportunity.”
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044
An Open Letter . . .
TO: Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party Legislative Caucus.
FROM: Your Constituents
Enough! We are not waiting any longer!
As DFL candidates, you campaigned on a promise to enact legislation that provides low-wage workers a real, living wage — not just a “minimum” wage.
All it would take, you said, was for Minnesotans to give the DFL a super-majority. Well, we voters delivered it to you! You have it! But now, instead of advancing Living Wage legislation, the DFL is floating another “minimum wage” bill that will just perpetuate poverty wages for many Minnesota workers!
For years, the DFL leadership has claimed Republicans were the lone obstacle to establishing a Living Wage in our state. That obstacle has been removed. You are now in the driver’s seat!
We, the workers of Minnesota, gave you the legislative votes to enact the Living Wage legislation you promised us.
Most importantly, we need to begin with a realistic dollar amount. Living Wages need to be calculated based on realistic levels of cost-of-living. U.S. Census data suggests at least $15 per hour; while, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), hourly wages of $22 and $26 at 40 hrs/week are needed to cover basic necessities. When making decisions on determining basic needs for a dignified life, the testimony from low-income Minnesotans should also be taken into consideration.
A Living Wage must also be subject to regular cost-of-living adjustments. The Consumer Price Index is our best indicator, and it should be used to adjust a new Minnesota Living Wage level quarterly or at least semi-annually.
If you should fail to enact such legislation, we will assume that you were just baiting us with nice-sounding campaign rhetoric, and that you are pulling a switch on us by simply advancing more employer-friendly “minimum wage” legislation, that does nothing to alleviate the hardships of Minnesota’s working poor.
Minnesota has long been considered a progressive bellwether. Do something significant now for her working men and women. It is what everybody morally deserves — the prospect of a dignified life.
Be courageous. Lead our state — and our nation — in securing the right of every worker to earn a decent living.
It can begin with the Minnesota Living Wage Act of 2014.
You can make it happen!
Your fellow Minnesotans
(as the undersigned, with our signatures attached herein)