Still fighting for $15 minimum wage

As the new administration sets in, I have a new hope for labor in our country. Newly elected President Biden promises a stand-alone bill to raise the minimum wage. “I’m prepared as the president of the United States on a separate negotiation on minimum wage to work my way up from what it is now,” Biden said. “No one should work 40 hours a week and live before the poverty wage and if you’re making less than $15 an hour, you’re living below the poverty wage.”

Here in Wisconsin, we are on the eve of the ten year anniversary of what Labor called “Walker Drops the Bomb” (February 11, 2011). It was and remains a fateful day for Wisconsin, the birthplace of organized labor. This was the day that broke the back of the public unions in Wisconsin. Laws enacted that would also weaken the private sector unions. Labor; that is you and I, again took a back seat.

Several years ago, when I ran for public office, I would hear the same old rhetoric, “I’ve worked at my job for 20 years and I’m up to $17.00 an hour. You think someone should just come in and start at $15.00? You’re crazy.”  They never seemed to understand that maybe they, the worker, were the one being exploited. Maybe they felt it was just easier to trample the little guy, not the source of not being paid their worth. Boots on the ground labor was taught to expect less.

At a fundamental level, raising the minimum wage would meaningfully recognize the value of all work. Wages need to be indexed to the cost of living as well. We also need to end the “tipped wage,” which dates back to times of slavery and further cheats workers out of fair pay.

Wisconsin has been at $7.25 an hour since 2010 when the state made the increase to keep up with federal minimum wage. Sadly, when workers are not paid a living wage, they must rely on public programs to meet their basic needs. Raising the minimum wage could lift 27 million Americans out of poverty. The fight for $15 goes on.