The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 09, 2014

Senate GOP defeats minimum wage hike

By The Building Tradesman

(By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer) 

WASHINGTON (PAI) – By a 54-42 vote on April 30, the Senate tried to open debate on labor-backed legislation to raise the nation’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016.   But its Democratic sponsors needed 60 votes to start debate, and got six fewer than that, so the effort failed and the wage hike bill died, for now.

Forty-one Senate Republicans voted to block debate on the minimum wage hike, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid,  D-Nev., who switched his vote at the last minute to be on the “winning” side and thus able to bring the minimum wage hike up again in coming months.

Other Senate Democrats, except absent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted to open debate, as did both independents, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.   Three Republicans were also absent.  More than 20 states, tired of waiting for a dysfunctional Congress to act, have raised their own minimums.  Minnesota, Maryland and Connecticut did so in the last two months.

Defeat did not faze sponsoring Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.  He has promised backers of the hike that he would bring it up a second time and a third if it failed.  If it fails three times, he said early in April, he’ll bring it to the voters in November .

But it disappointed union leaders, and leaders of civil rights and women’s groups, whose members campaigned for the hike.

“Any political oligarch in America who thinks they won yesterday is delusional,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared.  “Those celebrating the Senate’s vote are desperately clinging to greed, fooling themselves with an argument that is rapidly losing merit and muscle tone.  Raising wages is here to stay.

“Workers are energized, eager, and smart.  We deserve better pay, and our families and communities deserve better lives.  Yesterday’s vote will only propel American workers, inspiring us to find fresh tactics, innovative strategies, and new avenues to raising wages.

“The Senate should take up the minimum wage increase again and again, if necessary.”

The measure would have raised the wages of millions of workers, most of them working women and many of them single mothers.  The minimum wage would have risen in three 95-cents-per-hour steps and it then would have been indexed to inflation.  It’s now $7.25 hourly.

The bill also would have raised the wage for tipped workers, now $2.13 an hour, in stages to 70% of the regular minimum wage.  The tipped workers’ minimum hasn’t risen since 1991 and the regular minimum was last raised almost a decade ago.