In the brutally wicked winter of 2014, Wisconsin lawmakers turned a cold shoulder to the plight of the minimum-wage worker.
The state Senate, by a party-line vote, defeated a Democratic push to raise the state’s minimum wage. Meanwhile, Republicans at the Capitol offered up a proposal to “allow” people in manufacturing and retail to work seven days a week.
The GOP’s hostility toward workers earning low wages continued throughout the year — at both the state and federal levels, despite public opinion polls and voter-approved initiatives showing strong support for basic wage increases. And also despite repeated strike actions by workers in Wisconsin and other the other 49 states.
“I work hard. I exhaust myself and I don’t get paid enough to live a comfortable life,” said Milwaukee resident and fast-food worker Tim Roach, who joined strikers nationwide on Sept. 4 in demanding better benefits and a minimum-wage increase to $15 per hour.
Fast-food workers went on strike again on Dec. 4 in the fight for $15. A week earlier, workers at Wal-Mart stores staged strikes, also demanding better benefits and the right to organize.
Gov. Scott Walker’s administration had answered pleas with a finding that $7.25 an hour — about $15,080 a year — is a fair wage and dismissing workers’ complaints.
Progressives, however, understood the difficulties low-wage workers face and paid attention to the polls. Minimum wage increases were approved in major cities, including Chicago. In some cases the increases applied only to municipal workers and government contractors. In other cases, the increases were broader.
At the federal level, progressive lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, called “a starvation wage.”
Congressman Keith Ellison, D-MN, said, “Too many hardworking fast-food workers don’t make enough to live on while the company executives pocket $9,200 an hour. Even after a year and a half of organizing, workers are continuing to march until they get a wage increase and the right to organize.”
At the White House, the president took executive action to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.
The president also took executive action to ban discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government and to ban federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.
Laura W. Murphy of the ACLU said the “critical, long overdue protections … build on a bipartisan tradition dating back over 70 years of prohibiting taxpayer-funded discrimination.”