Currently our federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. While over half of U.S. states have minimum wages set higher than this federal minimum, it is not nearly enough. A report issued in 2017 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found a minimum wage worker can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in only 12 of the 3,007 counties across the U.S. No one should be expected to live in poverty.
While the cost of living in the U.S. has steadily risen, the minimum wage has not increased at the federal level since 2009 due to congressional indifference to the conditions of low-income workers. The real value of the minimum wage is now 10 percent below 2009 levels, and 25 percent below its all-time high adjusted for inflation in 1968.
Due to this inaction, labor and other groups seeking economic justice have taken the minimum wage fight to the state and local level. In recent years many states which elected conservative, anti-minimum wage Republicans to high office simultaneously approved ballot initiatives increasing the minimum wage. This is unsurprising considering it’s one of the most broadly supported policies in the country, with even the majority of Republicans supporting raising the federal minimum wage to at least $9 per hour.
But those increases which have been won at the state level are half-measures. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation and productivity growth since 1968 it would be $18.70 today. The minimum wage needs to be increased very significantly to not only reduce, but eliminate, poverty. The Fight for $15 movement, spearheaded by unions and their allies, grew out of this realization. Although initially considered a political impossibility, $15 minimum wages are now being phased in across all of California, along with cities including New York, Washington, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis. Virtually all studies have shown the economic benefit of these increases to low-income workers outweighs the drawbacks by a factor of four or five to one.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been a long-time proponent of Fight for $15. Along with other progressives, including Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), he has now introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2017, a bill which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, thereafter indexing the minimum wage to inflation (ensuring that Congress could never again allow it to decline in purchasing power due to sheer neglect). It is an astonishing step forward for a movement which is only five years old. When unions and working people join together to insist that people in our country need and deserve better wages, the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:
- Calls upon Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2017;
- Calls upon state and local governments to increase minimum wages in their jurisdictions to $15;
- Opposes state preemption laws which prevent cities from enacting their own minimum wages;
- Encourages locals to support the Fight for $15 movement, and to join actions to raise the minimum wage, including rallying at workplaces, submitting letters to local newspapers, contacting legislators, governors, and other elected officials; supporting ballot initiatives, signing and promoting community and statewide petitions, and joining grassroots organizations dedicated to raising the minimum wage such as Labor for Our Revolution;
- Opposes all actions meant to weaken or lower wages, such as efforts to repeal prevailing wage laws.