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In an op-ed published Sunday in the Arizona Republic, NELP Action Fund Staff Attorney Laura Huizar takes that state’s Republican legislators to task for hypocrisy: touting the virtues of local control on the one hand, while repeatedly seeking to thwart local efforts to raise the minimum wage and strengthen employment benefits on the other.

“When it comes to the minimum wage and basic employment benefits, GOP legislators have made one thing clear: Workers will not win. Arizona legislators have taken that message to a new, unlawful extreme with two bills designed to chill local laws that help workers,” writes Huizar.

In fact, the GOP bills violate the state’s Voter Protection Act, under which the legislature (1) is prohibited from repealing a voter-approved ballot initiative, and (2) can amend a voter-approved initiative by a three-fourths vote but only if the change furthers the purpose of the initiative.

In 2006, Arizona voters spoke clearly when they approved a ballot initiative allowing cities to enact local minimum wage and benefits laws.

This is the third time that the state’s GOP lawmakers have tried to block local efforts to improve wages and benefits.

Read the op-ed at the Arizona Republic

by Mitchell Hirsch, NELP Action

Senator Bernie Sanders, who has made a $15 minimum wage a centerpiece of his campaign’s pledge to fight income inequality, won the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary Tuesday in New Hampshire, and did so by a substantial margin. With nearly all the votes tallied, Mr. Sanders garnered 60.4 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a 22 point margin.

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The vote in New Hampshire came just three days after fast-food and other low-wage workers held their first-ever strikes in the state, urging workers to vote for candidates who support their call for union rights and a $15 minimum wage. The protests included a rally outside the Republican debate in Manchester, organized by the Fight for $15 campaign, which estimates that nearly half of New Hampshire’s workers—about 281,000 people—are paid less than $15 per hour. Nationally, 42 percent of America’s workers make less than $15 per hour, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project.

The 60 percent vote for Sanders on Tuesday bears striking similarity to the results of a national poll conducted for NELP in January 2015 which showed 63 percent of voters favoring a $15 federal minimum wage.

The New Hampshire results come a week after Mrs. Clinton had a better showing in the Iowa caucuses, narrowly winning by 0.2 percent, the smallest margin in the 44-year history of the state’s Democratic caucus.

Both Sanders and Clinton strongly favor raising the federal minimum wage, which remains stuck at the poverty-level $7.25 per hour due to Congressional Republicans’ refusal to consider raising it. Mrs. Clinton supports the Senate Democratic leadership’s proposal for a phased-in $12 federal minimum wage by 2020, and has endorsed higher local minimum wages, including cities moving to a $15 wage floor. But she raises the issue less frequently than Sanders does, and has noted her opposition to Sanders’s call for a $15 federal minimum wage. In contrast, Sanders makes his support of a $15 minimum wage an almost constant component of his campaign message. None of the remaining Republican presidential candidates supports raising the federal minimum wage.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire are among the 21 states where the minimum wage is determined by the federal minimum wage of $7.25, as is South Carolina, another early primary state, where Republicans will vote on February 20th and Democrats one week later.

Exit polling from New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary shows that Sanders’s emphasis on fighting income inequality, supporting higher wages and benefits for workers, and a $15 minimum wage helped earn him his strongest support from lower-income working people. Among voters in the Democratic primary with incomes of less than $30,000 per year (equivalent to $14.42 per hour for 40 hours a week year-round), Sanders received 72 percent of their votes compared to 24 percent for Clinton. That margin of roughly 16,500 votes represented nearly a third (29.5 percent) of Sanders’s total vote margin. Among Democratic primary voters from households with combined incomes of less than $50,000 per year, Sanders received 65 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Clinton, with his vote margin among those voters being almost half (44.9 percent) of his total margin. The only income group in which Clinton outpolled Sanders Tuesday was among voters with incomes of $200,000 per year or more.

Also notable in the exit polling, the two most important issues identified by Democratic primary voters were the economy and jobs (33 percent) and income inequality (32 percent). Voters who said income inequality was the most important issue favored Sanders by a 71 to 29 margin, while those who said the economy and jobs were most important voted for Sanders 59 to 39. And those who reported voting in a Democratic primary for the first time favored Sanders by 78 percent to 21 percent for Clinton.

Entrance and exit polls from the Iowa Democratic caucuses also showed Sanders’s support strongest among lower-income voters. There, he won among voters from households with incomes of less than $30,000 and $50,000 per year, but by smaller margins than in New Hampshire. Iowa Democratic caucus voters from households earning less than $30,000 favored Sanders by a 57 to 41 margin; those from households with incomes of less than $50,000 supported Sanders 53 to 44. But, in contrast to New Hampshire, Clinton won among voters in all income groups from households of $50,000 or more, and did so by a ten-point margin, 52 to 42.

In New Hampshire, Sanders began his campaign with little support despite hailing from the neighboring state of Vermont. The day after he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last April, polls showed him at just 11.3 percent in New Hampshire—40 points behind Clinton. By the time he joined workers at a Fight for $15 rally outside the U.S. Capitol last July—the same day he introduced his federal $15 minimum wage bill in Congress—he had narrowed the gap in the polls to trail Clinton by less than 17 points. Sanders then elevated his call for a $15 minimum wage to the top of his campaign’s agenda, and within two months, the poll numbers in New Hampshire had swung by 30 points to show him leading by nearly 13 points. And while his poll numbers continued to solidify through the fall, his 22 point margin in Tuesday’s primary was more than 8 points higher than even his average lead in the most recent polls.

With more and more cities and states taking action to raise minimum wages to $15 per hour, and more campaigns to do so emerging for this year and beyond, Tuesday’s resounding primary win for Bernie Sanders could mark a political turning point for the growing movement for a $15 minimum wage. We may well see more candidates for elected office campaign for a $15 minimum wage, joining the ranks of Russ Feingold, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, and Katie McGinty, a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, who are already doing so.

National Employment Law Project Action Fund
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Contact: Emma Stieglitz, emmaS@berlinrosen.com, (646) 200-5307

Measures Raising Wages Pass Across the Board, in Red States and Blue, Sending Signal to Candidates as 2016 Election Cycle Kicks Off

WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, voters in four states and three cities passed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage for an estimated 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states, voters approved non-binding referenda, instructing their legislators to raise the wage for another 1.1 million workers.  The near 100 percent success rate for the initiatives illustrates the increasing importance of wages to voters of all political stripes, and suggests that candidates’ opposition to higher wages may come at a high political price in the run-up to 2016.

The wage victories came as Republican candidates eked out enough wins to hand the party control of the Senate, an unsurprising development given conditions that favored Republicans – including the typically low turnout of midterm elections. The approval of ballot proposals on state and local minimum wages in spite of these political headwinds sends a clear message that wages are front and center for the electorate – which may have a decisive effect on the outcome of the 2016 general election, in which low-income individuals and others who heavily favor raising wages turn out in much higher numbers.

“What today’s midterm results say loud and clear is that voters will not simply toe the party line when it comes to economic issues, and in particular higher wages,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Project Action Fund. “This is not a partisan issue for working folks, but a practical one. People understand that $7.25 is not nearly enough to make ends meet, and that wages must allow hard-working families to raise their children in economic security. This is a clear mandate for minimum and living wage proponents to soldier on until we have fair wages throughout the country, and a clear warning to opponents to change their minds quickly before 2016.”

Residents of five states – Alaska, Arkansas, three cities in California, Nebraska and South Dakota – cast a vote on their state or local minimum wages in binding ballot proposals that would increase the wage floor to anywhere from $8.50 to $15 (see Table 1), affecting 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states – Illinois, and nine counties and four cities in Wisconsin – the referenda were non-binding, but if legislators follow through on the will of voters, over 1.1 million additional low-wage workers will receive a raise. The approval of ballot proposals in nearly all of these states and localities – including conservative strongholds Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – signals the increasing prominence of higher wages in a populist economic agenda that seeks to improve the broader economy from the bottom up.

“This is a victory for all hard-working Americans,” said Christine Owens. “It is not only hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who would be better off – thanks to the support of their friends, families and neighbors who cast a vote in their favor – but American families as a whole will, too. When we raise the wage floor for our lowest paid workers, we improve compensation for better paid workers and boost our local and national economies. That is welcome news for everyone.”

Prior to the midterm elections, a poll commissioned by NELP Action Fund and conducted by Public Policy Polling in six states with highly competitive Senate or gubernatorial races found strong support for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour among likely voters. It also found that Republican candidates who opposed wage increases faced serious backlash for their opposition in the November 2014 elections and beyond.

Indeed, a new Public Policy Polling survey in 11 expected 2016 battleground states on behalf of NELP Action Fund and Americans United for Change suggests political peril for minimum wage opponents seeking national office in 2016.  60% of voters in these states support raising the minimum wage, as compared to 35% who oppose doing so, according to the poll.  The poll also found that voters in these states are less likely – by 18 points – to support candidates who oppose raising the minimum wage, and by a 17 point spread trust Democrats more on the issue.  These findings cast doubt on Republicans’ ability to maintain their hold on Congress and take back the White House in 2016 while continuing to oppose an increase in the minimum wage.

Table 1: States and Localities With 2014 Ballot Initiatives

State/Local Proposal Binding? Passed?
Wage Indexing?
Alaska $9.75 (by 2016) Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas $8.50 (by 2017) No Yes Yes
California

(3 cities)

Eureka $12.00 (by 2015) Yes Yes No
Oakland $12.25 (by 2015) Yes Yes Yes
San Francisco $15.00 (by 2018) Yes Yes Yes
Illinois $10.00 (by 2015) Yes No Yes
Nebraska $9.00 (by 2016) No Yes Yes
South Dakota $8.50 (by 2015) Yes Yes Yes
Wisconsin (9 counties and 4 cities)

Counties: Dane, Douglas, Eau Claire, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Portage, Rock, Wood.

Cities: Appleton, Menasha, Neenah and Racine.

$10.10 Yes No Yes

Rubio and Johnson singled out for opposition to raising minimum wage; Donnelly, Nelson, Coons, and Carper urged to co-sponsor Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013

Washington, DC – With a vote to raise the federal minimum wage expected in the U.S. Senate soon after Thanksgiving recess, voters on Wednesday urged Senators of both parties to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

Constituents, including low-wage workers, gathered at the state offices of Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Tom Carper (D-DE), urging them to co-sponsor the Fair Minimum Wage Act. Delegations to each office emphasized the importance of each senator’s support and co-sponsorship of the bill ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) drew fire from voters outside their state offices, calling attention to their record of opposition to raising the minimum wage.

“Millionaires like Sen. Johnson don’t understand reality,” said Devonte Yates, who works for minimum wage at a McDonalds in Milwaukee. “People like me work hard but we can’t survive without public assistance.  I make burgers at work but can’t afford to make my own burger at home.”

Small business owners and low-wage workers also held a press conference at the Cedar Rapids office of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the lead sponsor of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, emphasizing the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage. An April 2013 poll found that 67 percent of small business owners support raising and indexing the minimum wage and indicated that the majority believe it will help the economy.

“If a small company, like ours, pays all of our employees at least $10 per hour to start, large companies like Starbucks, Macy’s, McDonald’s or Walmart, who all have annual profits in excess of $1 billion, can certainly afford to increase their workers’ wages to $10 or $15 per hour, and still have plenty leftover to continue paying their CEOs multi-million dollar salaries,” said Rhonda Walker, Vice President at Alpha Services Inc., a maintenance services business with 50 employees in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, would benefit an estimated 30 million low-paid workers and generate $32 billion in economic growth, according to an analysis of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute. The measure would also index the minimum wage to rise each year with the cost of living, and boost the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

The events Wednesday occur just weeks after the Obama Administration announced its support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act following a meeting with Senate Democrats. A national poll conducted in July 2013 by Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of Americans, including 62 percent of Republican voters, support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The poll also found that 74 percent of Americans consider raising the minimum wage to be an important legislative priority for Congress to address over the next year.

The most rigorous economic research over the past 20 years shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the past two decades of research on the impact of minimum wage increases on employment and concludes that “the weight of the evidence points to little or no effect of minimum wage increases on job growth.”  In February, leading mainstream economists polled by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business backed raising and indexing the minimum wage by nearly a 4 to 1 margin, saying that the benefits outweigh any costs.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org or www.raisetheminimumwage.org.  

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National Employment Law Project Action Fund

For Immediate Release: July 24, 2013

Contact: Laura Brandon, Laura.Brandon@berlinrosen.com (202) 641-8477 / Daniel Massey, Daniel@berlinrosen.com, (917) 370-7312

NEW POLL: Overwhelming Majority of Americans View Minimum Wage Increase as Important Priority for Congress Over Next Year

Members of Congress call for passage of Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 after four years without a federal minimum wage increase; rallies planned in over 30 cities across the country to demand higher wages for millions of America’s lowest-paid workers

Washington, DC – As four years pass without an increase in the federal minimum wage, a new poll released Wednesday finds that 80 percent of Americans – including 62 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Independents – support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to the cost of living, as proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) earlier this year. According to the poll, 74 percent of Americans consider raising the minimum wage to be an important legislative priority for Congress to address over the next year.

As members of Congress, business leaders, and workers gather in Washington on Wednesday to call for immediate passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, thousands of low-wage workers and their supporters in over 30 cities throughout the U.S. will hold rallies at major retail and fast food corporations, as part of a National Day of Action to raise wages for millions of America’s lowest-paid workers.

With Democratic leaders signaling plans to make raising the federal minimum wage a high-profile issue ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, the new poll finds that Congressional candidates who support legislation raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour gain a substantial 36 percent net advantage (51% more likely to support, 15% less). More than twice as many voters believe that Republicans will be more to blame than Democrats if Congress fails to raise the federal minimum wage over the next year, according to the poll, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates from July 15-17. [Top-line results of poll available here]

“Four years without a raise is three years too many,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) on Wednesday. “While millions of workers have been without a raise, costs have continued to climb. Between 2009 and 2012, rent has gone up 4 percent, food is 8 percent more expensive, child care costs 9 percent more, and public transportation takes a 13 percent bigger bite out of workers’ wallets.  We have to make sure that working families can keep up with the economy. Also, by increasing the minimum wage, we can give tens of millions of workers more money in their paychecks to spend at local businesses, increasing sales and boosting economic activity.”

“The American people understand that a decent minimum wage is not a handout,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA). “It’s about valuing work. The pressure to act is building.  We now see majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in all corners of the country support this raise. The time has come for American workers to get a raise. It’s time to grow our economy from the bottom up.”

At a noon press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Rep. Miller will join Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) in calling for Congressional action to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1010 / S. 460). Over 140 members of the House of Representatives have joined as co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, along with 30 members of the Senate.

The Hart Research poll confirms that opposition to the federal minimum wage remains an extreme position that is out of step with the views of the vast majority of voters. Last month, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated in a Senate HELP Committee hearing that he would favor abolishing the federal minimum wage altogether: according to the poll, fully 80 percent of voters, including 72 percent of Republican voters, disagree with abolishing the minimum wage.

“When it comes to the minimum wage, every year without an increase means that millions of America’s lowest-paid workers are forced to take a pay cut as the cost of basic expenses continues to rise,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. “Stagnant wages are a recipe for disaster for working families and the America economy alike.”

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would raise the federal minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015, and it would provide for annual increases to the rate in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living, a key reform known as “indexing” that  ten states have already successfully implemented. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from its current low rate of $2.13 per hour, where it has been frozen since 1991, to 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would boost pay for more than 30 million low-wage workers. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of these workers are adults over the age of 20; 85 percent work more than 20 hours per week; and 43 percent have at least some college education.  The minimum wage is also a staple of support for many families:  more than 15 million children in the U.S. have a parent who would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

With 70 percent of the economy driven by consumer demand, businesses cite lack of demand as a major reason they are not hiring. However, with overall wage growth stagnant and declining in low paid occupations, many consumers just don’t have the money to spend. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would generate more than $32 billion in new economic activity, supporting the creation of 140,000 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased demand.

The most rigorous economic research over the past 20 years shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the past two decades of research on the impact of minimum wage increases on employment and concludes that “the weight of the evidence points to little or no effect of minimum wage increases on job growth.”

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund.

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Rallies to be held in major cities and key districts across U.S.

2,000 expected at New York City march

 

On Tuesday, July 24, thousands of low-wage workers and their supporters will go before large U.S. corporations, members of Congress, and Chambers of Commerce to call for fair wages on the three-year anniversary of the last increase to the federal minimum wage. The Day of Action in over 30 U.S. cities listed below, including New York, where more than 2,000 are expected to rally, will support legislation in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014.

The events follow new data from the National Employment Law Project showing that large corporations with more than 100 employees hire the majority of the country’s low-wage workers (66%) – and that their strong recovery after the recession signals it is time to improve wages for the lowest- paid workers. New data from the Economic Policy Institute also shows the wide-ranging impact a minimum wage raise would have on America’s workers and the economy. A national poll of 2012 voters earlier this year found that nearly three in four likely voters (73%) support increasing the minimum wage to $10 and indexing it to inflation.

The coalition supporting the July 24 Day of Action ranges from researchers and policy experts to labor, faith, civil rights and community organizations representing millions of Americans, and includes NELP Action Fund, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Jobs with Justice, EPI Policy Center, YWCA, USAction, Interfaith Worker Justice, Credo, Campaign for America’s Future, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Demos, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, Leadership Center for the Common Good, Wider Opportunities for Women, the National Women’s Law Center and other labor, faith and community organizations.

Many of Tuesday’s rallies will take place in key districts or in front of prominent low-wage employers, including companies owned by Bain Capital. For a full list of actions, see below:

Monday, July 23

 

Washington, DC

12:00pm – Hundreds of minimum wage earners and supporters will rally in support of an increase to the minimum wage with a drum line and speak out.

 

Tuesday, July 24

New York, NY

3:00pm (Press Conference at 5:00pm in Union Square) – 2,000 will march from Herald Square to Union Square.

Baltimore, MD

2:00pm – Press conference at Baltimore City Hall with Elijah Cummings.

Chicago, IL

4:30pm – Three separate marches will converge on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce.

Detroit, MI

4:00pm – Minimum wage earners from Bain Capital-owned companies to join protests outside of Bain companies at the Eureka Road Center in Southgate.

Houston, TX

4:30pm – Protesters will block Louisiana St., where Houston’s most profitable companies are located.

Los Angeles, CA

10:00am – Protest at Bain-owned Burlington Coat Factory

12:00pm – Protest at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Miami, FL

1:45pm – Bus tour of minimum wage businesses and impacted communities

3:30pm – Rally in Miami’s financial center

Milwaukee, WI

12:00pm – Bus tour of minimum wage businesses and impacted communities

Minneapolis, MN

12:00pm – Rally and delegation outside office of Rep. John Kline

Philadelphia, PA

4:00pm – March from Liberty Bell to the Gallery at Market East (9th and Market St.)

Pittsburgh, PA

9:00am – March from Market Square to City-County Building

10:00am – Press conference following speakout at City Council calling on city to pass resolution on federal minimum wage

Portland, OR

5:30pm – Rally outside of Ross Center featuring flash mob-style actions, speakers who are Bain Capital minimum wage earners

Seattle, WA

11:00am – Rally in front of Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office

St. Louis, MO

5:00pm – Rally in Clayton, MO to call on four Senate candidates to support increasing the minimum wage

Kansas City, MO

5:00pm – Rally at Sen. Roy Blunt’s office to demand he co-sponsor federal minimum wage legislation

Cleveland, OH

5:30pm – Rally in front of Parma Town Mall in front of Bain-owned and other minimum wage employers

Toledo, OH

5:30pm – Rally at Westfield Mall to raise the minimum wage

Cincinnati, OH

5:30pm – Rally to raise the minimum wage

Sacramento, CA

12:00pm – March from Chamber of Commerce to State Capitol

Tampa, FL

1:00pm – Minimum wage earners and supporters to rally, hold delegation to Rep. Bill Young’s office

Springfield, IL

2:00pm – Protest at Chamber of Commerce

Moline, IL

3:30pm – Rally at Rep. Schilling’s Congressional office

Marquette, MI

12:30pm – March from Chamber of Commerce to Rep. Benishek’s office

Duluth, MN

5:30 – March to Rep. Cravaack’s office

Hudson Valley, NY

10:30am – Rally at Newburg city park to call on Rep. Hayworth to support minimum wage increase

Philadelphia, PA

12:00pm – March to Walmart Super-Center to call out low-wage employers

Pittsburgh, PA

11:30am – March to Rep. Murphy’s office to present petition from low-wage workers

Green Bay, WI

4:00pm – Rally at Rep. Ribble’s office

Wausau, WI

4:00pm – Rally at Rep. Sean Duffy’s office.

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund, a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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Dozens of events to take place across U.S. to put pressure on elected officials to choose a side: big businesses or American families

 

Washington, DC – On Wednesday a new coalition of major national organizations announced a campaign to call on elected officials to raise the federal minimum wage, launching with a national day of action on July 24, the third anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase.

Thousands of people, many of whom earn the minimum wage, are expected to participate in dozens of eventsacross the country on July 24, including in major cities like New York and Washington DC, where participants will rally outside prominent low-wage employers and call for fair wages and legislation to raise the minimum wage.

The new coalition comprises a growing number of organizations – from researchers and policy experts to labor, faith, civil rights and community organizations representing millions of Americans, including low wage workers themselves. Members include the National Employment Law Project, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Jobs with Justice, EPI Policy Center, YWCA, USAction, Interfaith Worker Justice, Credo, Campaign for America’s Future, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Demos, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, Let Justice Roll, Wider Opportunities for Women and the National Women’s Law Center.

On a conference call Wednesday, Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP ActionFund, and Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, drew attention to the fact that the minimum wage in 2012 amounts to less purchasing power than the minimum wage in 1968. Meanwhile, corporate profits in 2011 hit an all-time record of $1.97 trillion.

They also previewed forthcoming findings from the National Employment Law Project showing that the majority of America’s lowest-paid workers are employed, not by small businesses, but by large corporations, and that most of the largest low-wage employers have recovered from the recession.  The new report details how the majority of these companies — such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Yum Brands — are in a strong financial position, and can readily afford to pay a higher minimum wage.  The full report will be released Thursday.

“Millions of Americans are struggling to get by on the minimum wage.  They are falling farther and farther behind and their earnings can’t keep up with the rising cost of living.  Their paychecks are effectively shrinking, while profits continue to soar for the big retail corporations and restaurant chains that employ the largest share of low-wage workers in America,” said Owens.  “America’s low-wage workers deserve a raise—a modest increase will make a big difference in their lives while giving our economy a much-neededboost and barely making a dent in corporate profits.”

Polling data discussed by Owens and Henry indicate broad support for raising the minimum wage. A national poll of 2012 voters earlier this year found that nearly three in four likely voters (73%) support increasing the minimum wage to $10 and indexing it to inflation. That support includes 91% of Democrats, 74% of Independents and 50% of Republicans. It spans all demographic and regional divides by wide margins,regardless of gender, age, education level, race, region, and partisanship.

“Tens of millions of hardworking Americans are struggling to make ends meet and support their families. It’s time for Congress to raise the minimum wage, so that we can create an economy that works for all of us,” said Henry. “Rather than focus on tax breaks and perks for the richest one percent, we need to keep middle class and low-wage families from falling even farther down the economic ladder.”

Prince Jackson, a security officer at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, underscored the difficulty of providing for a family while earningonly slightly more than the minimum wage. “As a security officer at JFK, I feel that my job is critical to the safety of passengers and the airport. I earn$8.00 an hour. After my rent, my cell phone, and my laundry bills, all of my money is gone. I rely on my church food pantry to get enough to eat,” said Jackson. “I have a decade of experience in security. Putting another $80 or $100 in my pocket would mean a lot. I could have some money left over and send it to my son.”

Echoing President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senior Democrat of the House Education and Workforce Committee, have proposed to raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $9.80 by 2014, adjust it each year to keep up with the rising cost of living (as tenstates already do), and also raise the $2.13 sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

The NELP Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund, a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.  

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