$15 minimum wage must be the law of the land

The $15 minimum wage is the progressive idea that working families need. The regional minimum wage is regressive. Here’s why.

Democrats ran and won in 2018 on bold ideas, including the bedrock principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now, the House has a chance to deliver on that promise by passing the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would raise wages to $15 an hour by 2024 and eliminate the discriminatory and dangerous subminimum wage for tipped workers, young people and people with disabilities.

Working people have led the Fight for $15 in the streets, and now they’ve taken that fight to Congress. The Raise the Wage Act is gaining ground with over 200 co-sponsors, and it’s likely to soon move to the House floor.

Like clockwork, corporate-backed special interests are peddling their alternative, the so-called PHASE-in $15 Act, insisting that it will be good for workers. Don’t be fooled.This legislation would undermine the federal minimum wage floor by allowing for regional variation.

By 2024, people in every single state in the nation will need at least $15 an hour to live on. This legislation will ensure they won’t get it.

Regional variation is being pushed by Third Way, a think tank that hopes to pressure Democrats into backing off their campaign promises to have the backs of the American people.

Not so fast. Congress has raised the minimum wage 22 times since 1938. Every single time, it has always set a nationwide floor for wages. Allowing regional variation would collapse that floor and create a dangerous race to the bottom. Workers in southern states with little bargaining power in their legislatures would be left permanently behind.

A $15 minimum wage isn’t just good policy. It’s good politics. Sixty-five percent of Americans in battleground congressional districts support a $15 minimum wage by 2024.

The Raise the Wage Act would raise the wages of 40 million people, including one-sixth of educators, one-fifth of construction workers and one-fourth of health-care workers. That’s 26.6 percent of the workforce and represents a raise for two-thirds of the working poor. 

According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a regional minimum wage, by contrast, would deny a raise to 15.6 million workers, over one-third of whom are women of color.

We can’t be cowards when it comes to doing what the American people want and need. This legislation would make a profound difference in the lives of working families and the communities in which they live, work and invest.  

There’s a reason why when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 it set one minimum wage for the nation. It was to make it possible for every American, no matter where they live, to earn a decent living.

Don’t let corporate interests destroy one of the most important and lasting achievements for workers in our nation’s history. A regional minimum wage should be dead on arrival in Congress.

Liz Watson is the executive director of the Progressive Caucus Action Fund. She is the former labor policy director of the House Education and Labor Committee and a former Democratic congressional candidate in Indiana.