Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 10, 11 or 12
Called “Give America a Raise,” the tour started March 24 in Maine, traveled to nine other states including stops in Chicago and Springfield, and wound up at the U.S. Capitol last week, when demonstrators called for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016, which would increase pay for 28 million Americans.
The minimum wage is now $7.25; $8.25 in Illinois.
The rolling demonstration stopped in Chicago March 31 and got support from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and worker-rights activists, including members of Raise Illinois and Citizen Action-Illinois.
The U.S. minimum wage has stayed the same since 2009, while prices for groceries, gas, utilities and everything else have gone up, making it almost impossible to live anywhere in America on $7.25 an hour – $15,000 a year. President Obama said he wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and the bus tour may have helped raise the stakes for the GOP.
Spearheaded by Americans United For Change (AUFC), the tour used a 45-foot, 16-ton “billboard on wheels” traveling to Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
“Raising the minimum wage would provide a needed boost not just for the millions of struggling low-wage American workers that can barely survive on $7.25, but for the U.S. economy as a whole,” said AUFC president Brad Woodhouse. “It will create jobs because it puts more money in the pockets of workers who will quickly inject it back into the economy. Businesses will need to hire more workers to meet the demand. Decades’ worth of research done after previous minimum wage increases shows nothing but net economic benefits as a result, which is why so many successful business leaders and over 600 economists, including seven Nobel Laureates, are calling on Congress to raise it again now.
At each stop on the tour, Republicans were confronted with stories from low-wage workers pressing the need to raise the minimum wage. In Springfield on April 1, minimum-wage earner Gale Hamilton – who works two jobs and goes to college – appealed to lawmakers, saying, “I strongly urge Congress to do what’s right for our families who put them there … stand up for our families and take the vote [to raise the minimum wage].”
Other stops featured high-profile speakers including U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
“It’s been more than five years since these workers have gotten a raise – workers that include child-care providers, janitors and nursing assistants,” Woodhouse said. “All that stands in the way of stronger economy built from the middle out are Tea Party Republicans in Congress. But if these Republicans don’t care to support this effective policy towards creating jobs in their states, maybe they will care about keeping their own job.”
Durbin said he cannot remain silent.
“Shame on me if I run for the Senate and then don't even address the issues of the day," he said. "Am I supposed to stand there in mortal fear that [House Speaker] John Boehner will not consider my idea? No way.”
Backed by a progressive coalition – including the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, Service Employees, AFSCME, USAction, the National Employment Law Project, and Jobs with Justice – “Give America A Raise” focused on states where voters overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage and say they would be much less likely to vote for legislators who stand in the way.
Elsewhere, Democratic governors in Connecticut and Maryland have endorsed state increases to $10.10, and rank-and-file workers are pushing for minimum-wage hike at state legislatures in Iowa and Missouri.
Opposition from groups such as the National Restaurant Association, which counts the big fast-food corporations as members, has so far blocked a hike in the federal minimum wage to an amount that would let millions of fast-food workers and other ordinary Americans more easily make ends meet.
It’s time to get on the bus.
[PICTURED: Photo of the bus, from New Hampshire Labor News.]