03/23/2006 Playing Games With Workers' Wages

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Playing Games With Workers' Wages

An old rule of politics is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A new corrolary may be: Be wary of letting the good become the enemy of the perfect. In both Michigan and Pennsylvania, conservatives reading the polls are looking to defuse a ticking political time-bomb: the minimum wage.

For years, the federal minimum wage has been stagnant, leading to decreased purchasing power in the states. Progressives across the country have recently joined together with the minimum wage as a banner issue. Conservatives, realizing the game being played, are now moving quickly to take the issue off the table.

In Pennsylvania, the game is an interesting one. We demanded a mile, they're giving us a foot. Governor Rendell, at the urging of Pennsylvanians, has pushed for a $7.15 minimum wage. Instead, the conservative-led legislature looks to give him a $6.25 minimum wage, with an exception for 18-year-olds and possibly for new hires as well.

The game being played in Michigan is far worse than the nickel-and-diming of Pennsylvania, though. Following an organizing push by the grassroots progressive coalition Michigan Needs a Raise to boost Michigan's minimum wage to $6.85 an hour and eventually to $7.40 with a tie to inflation, conservative lawmakers decided to play hardball. They came back with a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $6.95 an hour, but to exclude the inflation adjustment. What's more, they made it clear that their bill's standard would be repealed if the coalition's initiative passed.

The conservatives in the legislature pretending to support a higher minimum wage are now saying that a vote for the fall initiative, which would represent a real long-term increase in the minimum wage, is actually a vote against workers. You may not be able to find more disingenuous leadership anywhere in America today, but when it comes to hurting workers, lies are the least of the conservative sins.

Michigan's corporate conservatives actually have a long history of abysmal behavior when it comes to wages. Corporate leaders in Michigan like Betsy DeVos have said that they believe "Many, if not most, of the economic problems in Michigan are a result of high wages and a tax and regulatory structure..." David Brandon, DeVos' comrade at Dominos, has said fighting higher wages is a number one priority because Dominos doesn't want to pay their drivers.

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Family-Friendly Business Rules

Two states, two different stories. Colorado's House just weakened a bill that would allow workers to take a small amount of time off each week for family reasons, such as parent-teacher meetings. Meanwhile, Arizona's legislature is unanimously moving a bill forward to protect the right of mothers to breast feed their children in public businesses.

In Colorado, where progressives offered up a compromise simply requiring businesses to craft family leave policies, the business community is condemning even the weakened version as a "mandate" on business. In Arizona, both progressives and conservatives are invoking the right to be a good parent as more fundamental than property rights of business-owners.

The fact of the matter is that research clearly shows that parental involvement in education is critical to student success. So if we want to student success, we need to give parents the freedom to be involved.

If progressives want to be seen as fighting for values and standing up for morals in modern America, standing up for working families is an important first step. Little matters more than giving parents the freedom they need to help their children succeed.

As a Republican legislator in Arizona put it, there are some rights that are older than businessmen's economic rights. That includes the right to be a good parent. It's high time we helped parents exercise that right.

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by Nathan Newman

A Correction on Monday's Dispatch

A few folks pointed out that in Monday's Dispatch we had given anti-public school activists too much credit for success when we said that Texas, Lousiana, and Kansas had passed the 65% Distraction into law.

In fact, public school advocates in Texas were able to block legislative enactment of the 65% mandate in 2005; instead, Governor Perry did an end-run around the legislature and issued an executive order attempting to impose the 65% mandates on state schools-- an act of dubious legality that may not have much teeth without implementing legislation.

And Kansas only made the 65% figure a public policy goal" that even its advocates admit is nothing more than a "recommendation" not a requirement for districts, just as the vote in the Lousiana legislature was a non-binding request to the state Board of Education to implement the proposal.

So that makes Georgia's new law the only one with legislative sanctions against school districts that don't meet the arbitrary 65% rule.

We regret indicating more momentum behind the silliness of the 65% Distraction that there actually is -- and if progressives keep educating the public, hopefully we can leave Georgia as the only state with it actually embedded in binding state law.

More Resources

Playing Games with Workers' Wages

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"

Family-Friendly Business Rules

Harvard Family Research Project: Family Involvement Makes a Difference in School Success
La Leche League: Breastfeeding and the Law

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Eye on the Right

The period after the Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision has given rise to a new "people's homes are their castles" ethos that is being persued aggressively across the country. And while a number of corporate conservatives appear to be on board to protect these castles from the government, they're moving forward with plans to roll-back other standard protections for home-owners and renters. For instance, in Pennsylvania, the conservative legislature recently passed legislation (now vetoed) to protect contractors who fail to adequately deliver on home construction. In Florida, the legislature is considering a bill allowing landlords to penalize tenants who move on from a rental, even when they find new tenants for the residence.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch