03/09/2006 The Minimum Wage, Conservative Posturing, and Progressive Success

Thursday, March 09, 2006



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The Minimum Wage, Conservative Posturing, and Progressive Success

Fully aware that their anti-worker policies are anathema to most Americans, corporate conservatives often posture and position themselves on worker issues to avoid bearing the full brunt of the backlash from their noxious positions and to try to fix blame on their opponents, who really are working for the common interest.

There is probably no better example of this toxic behavior than what is happening in Ohio. In Ohio, the state minimum wage (which applies to a small number of workers not protected by the $5.15 an hour federal minimum) is a mere $4.25 an hour.

Someone making four-and-a-quarter an hour and working 40 hours per week and 50 weeks per year will bring home $8,500. The conservative bill will bring that wage up to the $5.15 an hour, so that these workers will bring home $10,300.

So what's so vicious? Two things. First, the move is clearly designed in part to try to head off a real increase later this fall where there is a initiative in the works to bump in the minimum wage to $6.75 per hour -- an effective $3,200 per year raise for workers making the federal minimum. Second, the Republicans tied the minimum wage increase to a bill reducing workers' compensation for employees injured on the job.

And, of course, this corporate conservative wedging is all window dressing because relatively few workers make less than the federal minimum.

But the record is also clear. When it comes to the minimum wage, they have to prepare window dressing, because the issue is just too popular. That's why an increase from $6.50 to $7.00 per hour is moving forward in Maine and why the Ballot Issue Strategy Center says that minimum wage is the ballot issue for progressives to watch in 2006 as initiatives move forward in as many as 11 states, including California, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio. Additional efforts are being considered in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota.

More Resources


Congress Eyes Preempting States on Food Safety

Hard-pressed to find something to do less popular than sell-out for campaign contributions or outsource port operations to foreign governments, the U.S. Congress is now considering a bill to gut state food safety protections.

The sponsor of the measure, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), says the measure is necessary because the same food safety measures are necessary everywhere. Given that Rep. Rogers is talking about gutting those very food safety measures, California's Attorney General offered up a response that required mild censorship by The Sacramento Bee. There are, of course, good reasons to be concerned about Rogers' plan. First, the federal government doesn't have the background and training in certain areas of food safety work that states do (and even when they have the background and training, the federal government has occasionally done its best to deny its inspectors tools they need to enforce the law).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that over 250 state laws are at risk and that merely dealing with the administrative hassles of the new bill will cost the federal government $100 million. Among the laws being gutted are milk safety laws in all fifty states that have no federal counterpart.

$100 million: that's a big pricetag to make sure consumers in some states aren't getting better protection than consumers in other states.

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Blocking Attacks on Workers' Rights

Efforts to advance an anti-labor agenda died in recent weeks in both Indiana and Kentucky when workers and their allies in statehouses rallied opposition to the proposals. So-called 'right-to-work' legislation was brought up in both states. In Indiana, legislative leadership had indicated they wouldn't bring it up for a vote, but a representative moved it as an amendment. Hard work led to an overwhelming defeat of the measure 65-31. Union leaders who helped lead the victory said that number overstates their support. Once legislators realized that they were going to lose and look bad, many of them switched their votes to the winning side.

More recently, two bills backed by Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher went down to defeat. Fletcher was proposing both a right-to-work-for-less bill and a proposal to repeal Kentucky's prevailing wage law. The proposals both died a death in committee. Their deaths were followed by a happy wake pulled together by Kentucky workers. A group of business executives have said that they remain "committed" to giving their employees the "opportunity" to make less money. We don't doubt their commitment one bit.

More Resources

More Resources

The Minimum Wage, Conservative Posturing, and Progressive Success

Ballot Issue Strategy Center: Boost the Minimum Wage!
Center for American Progress: State and Local: Minimum Wage
Economic Opportunity Institute: "Still Working Well: Washington's Minimum Wage and the Beginnings of Economic Recovery"
Economic Policy Institute: Minimum Wage Frequently Asked Questions
Economic Policy Institute: "No Longer Getting By"
Fiscal Policy Institute: "State Minimum Wages and Employment in Small Business"
Oregon Center for Public Policy: "New Report Confirms that Minimum Wage Increases Have Not Caused Job Loss in Oregon"

Congress Eyes Preempting States on Food Safety

Association of Food and Drug Officials HR 4167 Resources
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture: Letter in Opposition to HR 4167
Consumers Union: Letter in Opposition to HR 4167
Natural Resource Defense Council: Fact Sheet
National Environmental Trust: Action Alert

Blocking Attacks on Workers' Rights

AFL-CIO: "Rights to Work for Less"
Economic Policy Institute: "Lessons for post-Katrina reconstruction: A high-road vs. low-road recovery" (looks at prevailing wage laws)

Economic Policy Institute: "The Wage Penalty of 'Right to Work' Laws"

Progressive States

In Today's Dispatch:

Worth Watching: Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone Action

As Paul Wellstone's campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett helped overcome amazing odds by promoting a progressive message. He honed his skills as a community organizer and now works tirelessly training progressives across the nation how to fight for progressive values and win.

Read Progressive States' Interview With Jeff.

Eye on the Right

ALEC's Education Hypocrisy: The right-wing network of legislators known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) claims to be dedicated to Jeffersonian ideals like federalism. So heads were scratching when the organization recently endorsed the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the most ham-handed, overly onerous unfunded mandates in the history of the country. Shortly afterward, they pressed forward in releasing their own report claiming that there is no connection between spending and results. No word yet on whether ALEC's corporate members are slashing corporate pay as a result of that finding. No word yet, either on whether ALEC cares that nationalized, high-stakes testing isn't good education policy.


Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch