Low-Wage Workers, Progressive Dems Start Push for National Minimum Wage Hike

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Cynthia Murphy wants a raise. Progressive Democrats in the U.S. House want to get it for her.

Murphy, a well-spoken African-American woman with a daughter in college, has toiled at the Burger King in the Pentagon’s underground food mall for a decade. She earns $9.50 an hour and hasn’t had a raise, ever.

She’s had to take a second job to make ends meet, “and I use food stamps and Section 8” public housing subsidies, she adds. She also borrowed $5,000 so her daughter could start at a local college.

Raising her pay to $15 an hour over seven years, which is what the Dems want, would help her – and millions of other working women – a lot.

“The Republicans” who rule Congress “are refusing to raise our wages while cutting the programs we depend on,” Murphy told an outdoor press conference as the progressives launched their campaign for the Raise The Wage Act, introduced last year by Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and more than 100 others.

The measure would raise the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, to $15, in line with the “$15 and a union” campaign pushed by goodjobsnation.org, the Service Employees – who are trying to unionize the low-paid workers – and other unions. The last federal minimum wage hike was almost a decade ago. A majority of states have raised their minimums since, as has Washington, D.C.

Their measure (HR15) would also substitute the new higher minimum wage for the tipped wage, which now goes to servers and others who are supposed to earn extra from tips. That wage, $2.13 hourly, hasn’t increased in 27 years. Firms, notably restaurants, whose workers depend on tips, are supposed to make up the difference. Often, they don’t, costing workers billions of dollars. HR15 also abolishes the youth subminimum wage.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., introduced the minimum wage hike there (S1242), with at least a dozen Senate Democrats joining him. Both bills haven’t even had a hearing.

“Raising the wage will give more than 37 million Americans a long-overdue raise,” said Pocan, a Painters Union member who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

GOP and business claim a minimum wage hike would primarily benefit high school students working after class, but Pocan responded “workers under 20 are only 20 percent of minimum wage workers, and the average age of a minimum wage worker is 36.”

 The minimum wage workers are also mostly women, and that drew support for the hike from women’s groups, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress and others. All noted half of the 26 million full-time minimum-wage workers – and two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers, including part-timers -- are female, 11 million are parents and 4.5 million of them are single parents.

“President Trump and Speaker Ryan” – GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – “tell us the best way out of poverty is a job,” said CAP Poverty to Prosperity program director Rebecca Vallas. “But on $7.25 an hour, that’s not a way out.”

“The Republicans are puppets of the big corporations” who got Trump’s tax cut “while millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. It’s disgraceful,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “In the Bay Area, 15 percent of my constituents are in poverty, as are 23 percent of African-Americans. Raising the wage would get women of color out of poverty.”

The Republicans “have done everything they can to kick workers in the teeth,” added Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., a member of Electrical Workers Local 441.

But while the workers held signs proclaiming “$15 and a union,” the theme of their “raise the wage” campaign, speakers stayed away from the “union” part, except for Murphy, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Will Fischer, an ex-Marine Iraq War veteran and executive director of the pro-union VoteVets.

The Republicans are unlikely to consider raising the minimum wage. That left Pocan and Murphy suggesting other ways to achieve it. He pitched making it a political issue. She urged Trump to act.

In an interview afterwards, Pocan said he and other progressive lawmakers “haven’t gotten around to” discussing specific strategies to move the minimum wage hike into law. McGovern tried to attach it to a budget bill several years ago, and lost on a party-line vote.

“The first thing we have to do is raise the profile of the issue,” Pocan said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to change the faces in November,” by electing pro-worker Democrats.

Murphy demanded Trump “issue an executive order to have federal contracts only for companies that pay a living wage and recognize our right to organize a union.”

That may be unlikely: Trump’s predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, issued an executive order telling federal contractors – such as the Burger King in the Pentagon mall – to pay workers a $10.10 hourly minimum wage. It said nothing about unionizing. And Trump dumped it.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work