Fight for $15: Advocates rally for increase in federal minimum wage
Dorothy Staub cherished her job as a caseworker with the National Guard in Erie County, Pennsylvania. She helped veterans handle a wide array of problems, ranging from financial difficulties to mental and emotional crises, including substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.
Until one day the federal contractor she worked for lost its contract and laid off Dorothy and hundreds of other caseworkers like her. After a month of furlough, a new company that had landed the contract with the Department of Defense contacted her and offered her old job back – but at a rate of $12.25 an hour instead of the $20.87 an hour she had been earning. That’s a 41 percent pay cut.
Dorothy told the company: thanks, but no thanks. Since then, the company has offered Dorothy more money, and she is considering their offer because she loved her job – she just wants a fair wage. “I’ve been there for families when their loved one has been killed in action,” she says. “I’ve had veterans confide in me that they’re thinking about ending their own life. I’ve had military members roll up their sleeves and show me where they were cutting themselves as a way to cope with their pain.”
On Wednesday, Dorothy joined hundreds of advocates in rallying just outside the U.S. Capitol in support of an increase in the federal minimum wage. Meanwhile, leading Democrats in both the House and Senate announced they would introduce the “Raise the Wage Act of 2017,” which would gradually raise pay from $7.25 to $15 an hour for 41 million people across the country by 2024, as well as index the minimum wage to increases in the typical worker’s wages starting in 2025. The bill would also phase out the outdated subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 an hour since 1991.
The rally, backed by Good Jobs Nation, National Employment Law Project, Economic Policy Institute and others, drew Senate sponsors of the legislation, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and House sponsors Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA).
“$15 is not just an economic issue, although a $15 minimum wage would lift our economy,” Schumer said. “It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of justice. It’s an issue of what America is all about.”
The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 immediately drew the support of Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, a CHN member. “This proposal delivers exactly what working Americans have been crying out for across the country – strong action to raise wages,” Owens said. “For nearly five years, workers from Birmingham, Alabama to Las Vegas, Nevada have been standing together and saying that they need at least $15 per hour to survive and to support their families. Today’s announcement is a clear sign that a number of elected leaders have heard the workers’ call for action and are bringing the Fight for $15 to Capitol Hill.”