On Tuesday, March 5, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) announced the introduction of The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. Once it reaches $10.10, the minimum wage would be raised automatically each year to account for inflation and ensure that it never loses its purchasing power. The bill also raises the wages of those who rely on tips, phasing in an increase until the “tipped minimum” – currently stuck at $2.13 an hour — reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.
Harkin and Miller spoke eloquently about the need to make work pay, to reward people for the time and effort they put into serving or delivering food, caring for children and the elderly, and cleaning hotel rooms or office buildings.
Citing Economic Policy Institute calculations, Harkin estimated that 30 million workers would get a raise, including 17 million women. He pointed out that nearly 90 percent of minimum wage workers are adults, not teenagers, and that two-thirds are in low or moderate income households.
The two business people and two workers Harkin and Miller invited to the event made an enormous impression. Margot Dorfman, the President of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, reiterated her support for the minimum wage, denouncing the idea that raising the minimum wage would be bad for business. “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” she said. “Our sales depend on consumer demand. If people aren’t paid a fair wage they can’t afford to shop in our stores or buy our services.” Dorfman made it clear that the NFIB and US Chamber of Commerce don’t represent small business. “They’re looking out for the big corporations that want to pay workers as little as possible. They want the taxpayers to pay for their workers’ food stamps. That’s not the position of women-owned small businesses.”
Andy Shallal, the owner of Washington DC’s Busboys and Poets and Eatonville restaurants (both identified as “high road restaurants” by ROC-United), was equally adamant. “The National Restaurant Association–the other NRA–doesn’t speak for us. Higher wages would mean less turnover and training costs, better customer service and a more professional workforce.” Keeping the minimum wage low hurts workers and restaurants like his that want to pay decent wages. And Shallal said not to believe all the dire warnings from the lobbyists: “The NRA has lied to you before and they’ll lie again. They said banning smoking in restaurants would destroy the industry but business is better than ever. Look around, restaurants in DC are doing so well that a new one pops up every day.”
The two workers, Annie Crawford and Gregory Reynoso, spoke movingly about the stress and anxiety associated with low pay, including the fear that paying the rent might mean not having enough to pay the other bills. Crawford is 56 years old and had a 30-year career as a designer before moving to Chicago and discovering she couldn’t find a job in her field. She took what she thought would be a temporary job at a fast food restaurant to help make ends meet, but it has become permanent, despite her college degree, experience, savings, and middle-class background. Crawford learned, she said, “that any of us can become a minimum wage worker.”
Reynoso, who delivers Domino’s pizzas in New York City for $7.25 an hour–and has to pay for his own car and gas–worries that he won’t be able to provide for his baby on the pitiful wages he earns. Like millions of other workers, Reynoso needs and deserves a higher minimum wage.