I’m very pleased that many presidential candidates will be here today to address you. It is a signal that the work you’ve been doing – laboring in the vineyards for decades – is getting the political attention it deserves. But the real test of a candidate’s commitment is not whether we come to speak at your national conference, as important as that is. It’s whether we’re still around after the cameras are gone and the votes are counted. It’s whether our positions live up to our rhetoric.
And too often we see a mismatch between what some candidates say in venues like this, and what they actually do when they’re elected. I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a “right to rise” and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care. They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education. And you cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote.
After returning from a two-week recess, the Senate is planning to vote on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 this Wednesday. The bill, called the “Minimum Wage Fairness Act,” needs 60 votes to advance thanks to the de facto GOP filibuster threat. And while in the past we have used this space to outline many of thedifferent benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10, in anticipation of this important vote we wanted to go over some of the most important reasons one more time. Here they are:
Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation would raise the wages of 28 million workers by $35 billion. Raising the minimum wage would provide Americans who work hard a better opportunity to get ahead while giving the economy a needed shot in the arm.
In 2013, CEOs made 774 times the pay of minimum wage workers.While the top CEOs made an average of $11.7 million in 2013, full-time workers making the minimum wage took home only $15,080 a year.
One million veterans would benefit from a minimum wage increase.After risking their lives to protect our country, 1 in 10 veterans working in America today are paid wages low enough that they would receive a raise if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10.
Raising the minimum wage will cut government spending on food stamps. Millions of workers earning the minimum wage make so little that they qualify for food stamps (SNAP benefits). This, in effect, amounts to taxpayers subsidizing corporations paying low-wages. Raising wages for low-income workers would actually cut government spending on SNAP by $4.6 billion a year, or $46 billion over the next 10 years, as workers earn enough on their own to no longer rely on the program.
Minimum wage workers are older than you think.Nearly 90 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 years or older. The average minimum wage worker is 35 years old. A higher minimum wage doesn’t just mean more spending money for a teenager, it means greater economic security for the millions of Americans who rely on it as their primary income.
Businesses see the value in increasing the minimum wage.Nearly 60 percent of small business owners recognize that raising the minimum wage would benefit businesses and support raising it. In fact, 82 percent of those surveyed don’t pay any of their workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
BOTTOM LINE: Over the next few days, as Senators take to the chamber floor to debate and then vote on this legislation that would help the economy and millions of American workers, they should make sure they keep in mind these vital facts on why the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10. A vote against increasing the minimum wage is quite simply a vote against working Americans.
Since the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2011, they have repeatedly attempted to use the prospect of a government shutdown or a debt default as leverage. A shutdown would furlough close to a million federal workers and cut off essential services for millions more Americans, while a default on U.S. debt, even according to Speaker John Boehner, could devastate the global economy. While the recent debate has focused on Obamacare, that is just the latest in a series of demands made by Republicans. The following is a list of things that have been, at various times, demanded by Republicans under threat of a government shutdown or default:
McDonald’s really stepped in it this summer when the fast food empire created a budget for its underpaid employees to help them make ends meet on the low wages they bring home after flipping burgers all week.
At first, the McBudget didn’t include any money for food or gasoline, then it fixed that by telling its full-time workers to get a second job. It allocated only $20 a month for health insurance — less than half of what it costs to carry McDonald’s most affordable coverage option.
The golden arches deservedly came under fire and faced widespread ridicule.
This blunder underscored how huge corporations like Mickey D’s and Walmart are responsible for the majority of our nation’s low-wage jobs. McDonalds has been offering this sort of happy meal “financial literacy” program in concert with Visa Inc. and Wealth Watchers International since 2008. But they’re not alone, there’s another player in this mix that’s responsible for creating more poverty-level jobs than these two companies combined. It’s good ol’ Uncle Sam.
That’s right. The federal government supports more U.S. low‑wage jobs than McDonald’s and Walmart put together, according to a recent report from Demos.
One reason why we don’t hear much about it is that these exploited workers don’t get a paycheck directly from the U.S. Treasury. They work for contractors — companies that are paid with your tax dollars to staff government facilities and do government-funded work around the country.
Contractors get big bucks to make goods, like military uniforms, and provide services. These companies do construction jobs, employ home health care workers, and are responsible for cleaning government buildings.
Though the contracts can total billions of dollars, frontline workers are paid at poverty levels. After decades on the job, these workers may never get a raise that brings their pay above our paltry minimum wage.
Guadalupe Rodriguez is an example. She has worked for almost 20 years for a janitorial company at Union Station, a federal property. She receives no benefits and has never made more than the minimum. Workers who are undocumented, and there are some, are paid in cash and cheated out of even that lowly sum.
These workers exploited by companies raking in your tax dollars number about two million. On top of that, there are at least one million underpaid farm workers taken advantage of by Big Ag companies subsidized with government handouts.
Well, some of these underpaid federal contract workers are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Rolling strikes in Washington have been held this summer at the Smithsonian Institution, Union Station, and the Ronald Reagan building. Led by the union-backed Good Jobs Nation, the strikes are sure to spread to other cities with large numbers of government-contracted workers.
The Demos report urges President Barack Obama to issue an executive order that would mandate higher wages and benefits as a condition of federal contracting, an already common practice at the municipal level.
Better yet, why not cut out the middlemen? Uncle Sam used to employ people directly, with decent wages and benefits. Now those jobs are outsourced to corporations making big profits on the backs of workers.
By allowing contractors to pay low wages and no benefits, the federal government is forcing us taxpayers to pick up the tab for the help these employees must have to make ends meet — services like Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized child care.
There’s no sane reason why corporations should be allowed to benefit from billions of your tax dollars to line their already overflowing pockets, all the while keeping your neighbors in poverty.
Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need. Follow Martha on twitter @MarthaBurk. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)