Emeryville, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area, is emblematic when it comes to the partisan issue of raising the minimum wage.
Labor and religious groups, and worker advocates, have opted to push local governments in liberal-leaning areas to enact their own wage increases. That’s because they can’t break the deadlock in the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. Republicans steadfastly oppose minimum wage hikes, aligning themselves with some pro-business groups who counter that lifting the minimum wage would lead to job losses.
But that hasn’t stopped places like Emeryville, which has given the initial approval to the nation’s highest minimum wage by setting baseline pay at $16 an hour in 2019, with gradual increases leading up to that level. The 5-0 vote this week by the city council, representing a community of about 10,000 residents, follows moves by several major U.S. cities to sharply raise their minimum wages.
Moreover, some of the nation’s biggest retailers and fast-food establishments are raising minimum wages in the wake of protests by workers and their advocates that have intensified, along with a robust, and more competitive, jobs market.
McDonald’s last month became the latest major company to give at least a portion of its workers an average hourly pay boost to $9.90 from $9.01. Walmart stores are raising hourly pay for 500,000 workers to at least $10 next year.
Despite little chance of succeeding, Democrats in Washington continue to make the national minimum wage an issue, as the 2016 presidential election looms closer.
Dems Push for $12 Per Hour by 2020
Introduced last week by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Virginia, the Raise the Wage Act would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 per hour by 2020, and then “index” it to median wages, so that the minimum would automatically go up as overall wages increase, beginning in 2021.
In a move that will have a major impact on the services industry, particularly restaurants, the bill also would gradually phase out the lower “pre-tip” minimum wage that employers are allowed to pay tipped workers, such as waiters and waitresses. The law would apply the regular minimum wage to these workers — before tips — which is something that only happens in a handful of states today.
Federal law now permits employers to pay tipped workers a pre-tip wage of just $2.13 per hour, a policy that leaves these workers almost twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers.
“No one who works hard in a full-time job should have to live in poverty. We owe it to workers across the country to make sure our minimum wage is set to a level that works for them and their families.” said Senator Murray in a statement. “Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 is a key component to helping more families make ends meet, expanding economic security, and growing our economy from the middle out, not the top down.”
See the full text of the Raise the Wage Act.