House Workforce Committee Goes Out With a Whimper, Not a Bang

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

The last hearing of the soon-to-be late, great Republican-controlled House Education and Workforce Committee of the 115th Congress was supposed to be held yesterday.    The subject: “Mandating a $15 Minimum Wage: Consequences for Workers and Small Businesses”. (Subtext: How a mandatory minimum wage will doom small businesses and starve their employees.)

Unfortunately for Republicans who oppose paying workers a living wage, the hearing was postponed. (Probably permanently, being as the 115th Congress draws to a close at the end of next week.)

This was going to be an important hearing. Not just because this was the final hearing that the Education and Workforce Committee, controlled by Republicans, would hold before it becomes the Education and Labor Committee, controlled by the Democrats. 

This was the only hearing the Republican majority has called to discuss the minimum wage since taking control of Congress in 2010.

This hearing was important because it was to be the only hearing the Republican majority has called to discuss the minimum wage since taking control of Congress in 2010.

You read that correctly. The Republicans in this committee have held 264 hearings over the last 8 years and zero have covered the minimum wage. 

So why would they cancel their only chance argue to hard working Americans that $7.25/hour is plenty of money.

Seems one of their witnesses got caught with his digital pants down.

San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia was slated to testify yesterday on the potentially catastrophic effects of raising the minimum wage $15/hour. But at the last minute, according to Politico, Committee staff discovered Sabia’s anti-gay comments in his former blog “No Shades of Gray.” In one 2002 post, Sabia proposed that government “tax and regulate homosexual acts” through taxation of “gay nightclubs, websites, personal ads, sexual paraphernalia, and so forth.”

In another post that same year, titled “College Girls: Unpaid Whores,” Sabia argued that feminism “taught young women that equality is achieved by acting like promiscuous sluts.”

And then there was this:

“Come on, Sabia,” you say, “how are you going to enforce these taxes? Are you going to send government officials to peep into everyone’s bedroom?”

Eventually. But first we have to mount the assault on Big Gay (no, I am not talking about Rosie O’Donnell). We can tax gay nightclubs, websites, personal ads, sexual paraphernalia, and so forth. Talk about a sin tax!!! We can cripple gay-related industries and get them right where we want them. All gay clubs will have to feature huge, flashing warning signs like “CAUTION: Entering this nightclub may increase your chance of contracting STDs and dying.”

Now anyone can make a mistake. But as former President George W. Bush said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, can’t get fooled again.”

Well, it turns out you can get fooled again. This was not the first time Ed and Workforce Committee Republicans had to pull a witness at a hearing. In 2015, Republicans invited Brian Pannebecker, an hourly production worker at Ford, to testify at a Right-to-Work hearing.

Imagine their surprise when they discovered that Pannebecker had “posted a glowing Amazon review of David Duke’s My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding?” And he had written on his Facebook page that President Barack Obama was “a race hustler” who was “trying to benefit from racial tension and animosity.”

Committee Democrats were upset the hearing was cancelled. Workers had come to Washington to talk about why it’s time to raise the minimum wage. But despite the cancellation, the workers’ voices were heard:

Ed & Workforce Dems@edworkforcedems

Today, the Republican Majority cancelled the only hearing it has called on the minimum wage since taking control in 2010. Our Members still wanted to hear the stories of workers who traveled here to tell Congress that it’s time to .

The lesson here? Maybe teach your staff to use the Google. 

And don’t look to the White House personnel office for guidance on how to vet people.

So happy trails, Ed and Workforce. Until we meet again in the 116th Congress as Ed and Labor. Keep smiling until then.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

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