Editor’s Note: The Oklahoma House on Monday [4.7.14] approved SB 1023 on a straight party-line vote, 68 Republicans in favor and 22 Democrats in opposition. Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign it into law. The new law would take effect immediately because two-thirds of the House declared it to be an “emergency.” The battle, though, is far from over: The constitutionality of the new law is expected to be challenged in court. In the meantime, petition circulators say they will continue to gather signatures in hopes the citizens of Oklahoma City eventually will win the right to vote on this important issue.
BY BOB BEARDEN
The OKC Raise the Wage Coalition is well on it way to collecting signatures needed to get our petition on the ballot for people to decide whether or not the minimum wage should be raised.
Our efforts are entirely grassroots in nature and our coalition is a broad-based mix of labor, faith-based and community organizations. We have until June 1 to collect the needed signatures: 6,200.
We recently brought our petition to the OKC City Council to ask for their signatures to join in the groundswell to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City to $10.10 per hour. Whether or not they will be sign remains to be seen.
The Rev. Mark Christian, a coalition committee member, presented our petition to the City Council members and asked that they consider signing, but they made no comment on his presentation. In a fortuitous act of fate, Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, made a moving presentation before the council members on the situation of the growing hunger problem in Oklahoma just prior to Mark’s presentation.
Raising the minimum wage is an issue whose time has come and despite a bill [SB 1023 by Sen. Dan Newberry and House Speaker Jeff Hickman] that is being fast-tracked in our state Legislature to stymie our efforts, we are proceeding apace to reach our goal. What the effect of the bill, if passed, will have on our petition we do not yet know.
The Constitution of the United States, in the Bill of Rights, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” I believe that includes any duly-constituted government within the border of the United States and that it would include municipalities such as Oklahoma City of which the bill currently wending its way through the state legislature would prohibit and therefore render the bill, if passed, unconstitutional … but I am not a lawyer nor a legal scholar.
The issue of raising the minimum is an issue that is popular all across the political spectrum. Even 54% of Republicans agree that it is something that needs to be done. Far too long low-wage workers have toiled locked in the throes of poverty because their employers – most of whom are raking in outrageous profits – refuse to pay them a living wage.
A lot of people are saying that most workers earning minimum wage and lower are just teenagers and college students who aren’t hurting because they don’t have families of their own. That is a false premise. The vast majority of low wage minimum wage workers are people who have a family and who are often working at more than one low wage minimum wage job just to make ends meet.
The average age of minimum wage workers is 35 – that’s hardly school age. In fact, it means simply that most people who are working at minimum wage jobs have for various reasons been unable to secure jobs that pay a living wage. One of the reasons is that more and more big box and corporate employers have cut out benefit packages for their workers and have gone to paying their workers minimum wages with no benefits.
The advent of temporary outfits like Express Personnel have created a situation whereby employers who used to hire full-time employees and offer them a benefit package now hire temporary part-time employees who receive minimum wage and no benefits and with no prospect of ever receiving a promotion or benefits.
And contrary to some pundits, workers who toil at low wage and minimum wage jobs are not lazy. They take these jobs because that is often the only way they have of feeding their families. They are hard workers who have been unable to find living-wage jobs because those are becoming fewer and fewer.
Companies like Express Personnel saturate the market with temps and in doing so allow corporations to increase their bottom line. The disadvantage of this scenario is that the public gets inferior products and service. While the company makes gains in its profit margin, it loses in the long run for not having a long-term stable work force.
Eventually, many of these type companies end up in bankruptcy or sold to the highest bidder and what full-time employees are left find themselves out of a job with little or no prospects for finding a living wage job and, consequently, they too wind up with a low paying minimum wage job.
This creates a boomerang effect in that more workers are forced to work for less pay and still have obligations of family and homes. When they can’t feed their families on minimum wage or less they have to seek public assistance and rely upon food pantries to supplement their food supply.
This in turn is creating a heavy burden on food banks across the nation. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, giving out about 30 million pounds of food per year five years ago, now is on track this year to hand out more than 47 million pounds of food. That’s a huge increase in need in just five short years!
The creation of a minimum-wage economy has brought about an increase in poverty levels not seen in this nation in more than 100 years. More than 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – that is something that has not happened since the Great Depression over 60 years ago!
We are the richest nation in the world and we have more impoverished citizens than some Third World nations. That should be unconscionable!
Raising the minimum to $10.10 per hour is only a stop-gap measure but it is a start in the right direction. And there is no empirical evidence to suggest that it will in any way harm small businesses nor giant corporations, either.
In fact, all the evidence from past minimum wage increases points to the fact that in almost every instance when the minimum wage has been increased the economy has grown exponentially. When low wage and minimum wage workers get a pay raise the always put it back into the economy by spending it and not hoarding it as most of the 1% are prone to do.
Raising the minimum wage will only help to create more jobs not stifle the economy.
It will be interesting to hear those who oppose raising the minimum wage try to frame their arguments against it. But then, when we hear people like the guy in Alaska who said women who use contraceptives are being irresponsible, you have to figure that these same said people will be coming up with all kinds of dumb scenarios against raising the minimum of wage. All of which may backfire on them since the American public believes by a huge margin that it is past time to raise the minimum wage!
– Bob Bearden is a frequent contributor to The Oklahoma Observer, a member of the OKC Coalition to Raise the Minimum Wage committee, a trustee with the Central Labor Federation and a member of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.