Raise the wage

Apr 23, 2014 at 5:00 am

Earlier this month, I testified before Metro Council’s Community Affairs Committee as they consider legislation mandating a citywide raise of the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Similar statewide legislation recently passed in the Kentucky House, where Democrats hold a majority of seats, but has snagged in the Republican-controlled Senate. Thus, we now must look to local lawmakers to address our community’s need for a raise on the minimum wage. 

Opponents of raising the wage have turned to fear-mongering and scare tactics to turn already cash-strapped Americans against the working poor by suggesting that consumers will ultimately suffer the most from wage increases. It’s not the salaries of low-level employees that risk driving up the costs of goods and services; rather, it’s the multi-million-dollar salaries of corporate executives that make shit so expensive. The 1 percent and their corporate spin doctors would have us believe that paying a hardworking, dedicated workforce an extra $3 an hour would exponentially drive up the cost of everything we buy, or even worse, cause companies to fire people or hire fewer workers. Bullshit. As Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

In reality, raising the wage has little to no impact on the job market. A 2010 study in the Review of Economics and Statistics revealed that there have been “no detectable employment losses” from the raising of America’s minimum wage throughout history. In 2011, a follow-up study declared “no impact on hours worked or employment levels” as a result of minimum wage increases. The political blog Think Progress purports that top economists David Card and Alan Krueger’s “seminal study of the minimum wage found that job creation was actually strengthened by an increase in the minimum wage.” Take that, naysayers.

What we’re really talking about here is mega retailers like Walmart and Kroger and big fast food joints like McDonald’s. If you ask me, the folks who ring in and cook our $10 Smashburgers and paninis are at least entitled to that same sandwich’s worth of compensation for an hour of work.

Further on the issue, tipped workers, who make even less money an hour, are not frequently a part of the conversation when it comes to raising the minimum wage. Restaurant servers and other tipped employees are often neglected on issues of workers’ rights. Most our city’s restaurant workers rely exclusively on tips for their income. Although the state minimum wage for servers and bartenders is $2.13 an hour, tipped employees never see that amount in cold hard cash because our employers pay that amount directly to the federal government to help satisfy our tax obligation. It hasn’t been since 1991 — more than 23 years! — that tipped employees have seen an increase to their minimum. Considering inflation, $2.13 in 1991 is worth about $1.24 today. That means that the $2 in your pocket only goes about half as far as it did 23 years ago. That $2.13 has lost 36 percent of its value, and, as a result, servers are three times as likely to be below the poverty line as a general workforce. No one can survive off $2.13 an hour, and no one should have to.

Lawmakers all over the country are currently debating this issue. I am particularly inspired by the thoughtful work happening in the great state of New Jersey, where lawmakers are considering raising the tipped minimum wage to $3.39 by the end of this year and to $5.93 by the end of next year, an effort being led by General Assembly member Shavonda Sumter. President Obama has even supported raising the federal wage for tipped employees to $4.90.

I encourage LEO readers to remain informed of the ongoing debates regarding minimum and living wages, especially locally. More information on this issue can be found by contacting Kentucky Jobs with Justice, a local organization dedicated to protecting the rights of working people. JWJ has helped lead on this issue, and I am appreciative of Flaco Aleman, Honey Dozier and the JWJ team for their leadership and advocacy on behalf of workers, especially restaurant service workers like myself.

If you support raising the city’s minimum wage, including for tipped workers, please express your support by calling or emailing your Metro Council representative. Thank you, and please tip your server.