Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kennedy Still on Mission to Raise Minimum Wage

Continuing with a fight he twice brought to the Senate floor last year, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) is now trying to garner popular support for his push to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over two years.

“We hear a great deal in this body about family issues, about family responsibilities, family obligations,” said Kennedy on the floor of the Senate in October. “These are men and women who are earning the minimum wage and who are trying to provide for their families on that minimum wage. They know they cannot do it. So they have one or two or even three minimum wage jobs. How much time do they have with their children? They are trying to provide for their children but have no time to spend with them.”

And evidently the family-values types on the GOP side of the aisle want to keep it that way.

Kennedy sponsored two bills in 2005 to raise the national minimum wage and both of those, S.Amdt. 44 in March and S.Amdt. 2063 in October, were shot down by votes of 49-46 and 51-47, respectively. In each of the two roll call votes, every single "nay" on raising the minimum wage was given by a Republican.

But Kennedy is still at it and is asking for public support on his S.1062, the Fair Minimum Wage Act which, if passed, will amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to hike the minimum wage to $5.85 an hour, then $6.55 one year later and finally $7.25 after two years. The bill has 34 cosponsors – all Democrats, of course, with the exception of Independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

“Over the past ten years, members of Congress have raised their own pay by $31,000, but the minimum wage hasn't gone up a cent,” said Kennedy on his web site, where he is collecting names of Citizen Cosponsors for his legislation. “It's still just $5.15 - $10,700 a year for a full-time worker. No one can live on that. It's more than $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. In the wealthiest country on the face of the earth, no one who works for a living should have to live in poverty.”

Because of the way the Senate works and the near-absolute power held by the majority party, it’s likely Kennedy’s bill will never see a roll call vote without our help. (S. 1062 is “standalone” legislation while the two measures Kennedy tried to pass last year were amendments to existing bills, which is an easier thing procedurally for a minority-party member to get to the floor.)

So please go to Senator Kennedy’s web site and sign up as a cosponsor of the Fair Minimum Wage Act. This will help pressure the GOP leadership in the Senate, who will be very reluctant to allow such a politically flammable issue to go to a vote in a critical election year.

“With these signatures in hand, I'll demand a vote on the minimum wage as soon as possible,” said Kennedy.

And as he’s said many times before: “Americans understand fairness. Americans understand that if a person works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year, they should not have to live in poverty.”