Wis. GOP defeats minimum wage hike, proposes 7-day work week

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RAISE THE MINIMUM: Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Milwaukee at the end of 2013. Demonstrations took place in more than 100 cities as part of push by labor unions and worker advocacy groups to raise the minimum wage. -PHOTO: AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

One Democratic push to increase the minimum wage has failed in the Wisconsin Senate by a party-line vote in mid-January. Meanwhile, Republicans have offered up a proposal to “allow” people in manufacturing and retail to work seven days a week.

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage.

On Jan. 9, Democratic Reps. Cory Mason of Racine and Eric Genrich of Green Bay and Sens. Robert Wirch of Somers and Nikiya Harris of Milwaukee announced they are shoring up support for a proposed hike in the minimum wage — to $8.20 at first, to $10.10 over two years and afterward indexing the wage to the rate to inflation.

“Wisconsin’s working families deserve a raise,” Mason said. “More and more of our nation’s wealth is going to the richest few, while the cost of gas and groceries increases and family income stagnates.”

At $7.25 per hour, a person working full-time earns about $15,000 a year. 

“The reality is that you simply can’t live on the current minimum wage and the public is starting to recognize that we need to do something.”

But Republicans in the Senate have not.

Wirch on Jan. 14 brought forward a motion to consider a modest increase in the state’s minimum wage that he proposed about a year ago — to $7.60 per hour. The motion was defeated on a party-line vote.

“This bill has been sitting in committee for a year with no action,” Wirch said, adding, “Unfortunately the Republican majority has demonstrated again that the needs of working families are not a priority for them.”

Harris said, “Republicans had a chance to vote on a solution that would help Wisconsin families now. Instead, they refused to even have a conversation about an immediate and modest increase in the minimum wage to help boost our economy.”

As WiG went to press, Wirch, Harris, Mason and Genrich had just filed their 2014 bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over time — a proposal modeled after a federal bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and retiring U.S. Rep. George Miller of California and endorsed by the White House.

They already have the support of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

“The current minimum wage has not kept up with worker productivity or inflation,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the state labor organization. “More families are working longer hours for less pay. People cannot survive on $7.25 an hour.”

She said the state must put a stop to hugely profitable companies such as McDonald’s and Walmart paying employees so little that their wages must be supplemented with taxpayer-funded public aid.

“If we increase the minimum wage in Wisconsin, we not only directly help minimum wage workers provide for their families and get out of poverty, but we help the whole economy. A rising tide lifts all boats,” she said.

No day off

Bloomingdale opposses  the seven-day work week bill offered by Republican Sens. Glenn Grothman of West Bend and Mark Born of Beaver Dam.

“People aren’t machines and need rest for their physical and emotional well-being,” she said. “In America, we have a social contract that if you work hard you also have some time off to spend with your family, your friends and be a part of your community. Glenn Grothman’s bill threatens to destroy this social contract and would roll back the clock on worker rights.”

Manufacturers and retailers must give workers at least 24 consecutive hours off every seven days under Wisconsin law. 

Grothman and Born propose allowing workers to volunteer to work seven straight days.

The Republicans said Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce pitched the change, according to an AP report. And they say their measure is modeled on federal law that allows workers to make extra cash and manufacturers to boost production.

“It just seems like a win all the way around,” Born said, according to the AP.

But Racine’s Mason called the GOP measure a “slap in the face to ordinary working folks in Wisconsin.”

And Bloomingdale expressed concern that employers would pressure people to work “every single day without rest, which can lead to an increase in workplace accidents and decrease in quality services. Where did this bill come from? Are workers asking for this? Are constituents asking for this? I don’t think so.”