Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Republican Minimum Wage Bill to Lower Wages in Seven States

By now, most people know that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed another tax cut for the wealthy late last week. They did this by almost eliminating the estate tax on multimillion dollar estates and, along the way -- to give their GOP brethren a chance to appear caring and noble before the November elections -- they grudgingly attached an increase in the minimum wage.

Their message to Democrats was clear: If you want low-income Americans, who have not seen the federal minimum wage rise in almost a decade, to get a tiny bit more money, you need to provide yet more tax breaks for the very richest families in the country.

The political ploy, which would raise the minimum wage over three years to $7.25 an hour from $5.15, outraged Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) called the Republican scheme "the most ethically repugnant, intellectually dishonest, morally bankrupt ploy I have ever seen in a legislative body." He went on to say to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) that "… apparently shame has become entirely irrelevant to you and your party."

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called it a "transparent and cynical trick" adding that "Republicans have offered to give America a raise if, and only if, their wealthiest friends also get billions of dollars in tax breaks."

"Republicans are threatening to deny a $2.10 raise for 11 million Americans unless they can give away hundreds of billions to less than .2 of 1 percent of the American people," said a frustrated Reid. "The $2.10 raise is over a period of years. It should be immediate. The $2.10 an hour raise occurs if the richest of the rich get billions of dollars. It is political blackmail that reeks of desperation."

But here's the
really sick part: The Republican minimum wage bill, which may come to a vote on the Senate floor by the end of this week, would actually cut the salaries of hundreds of thousands of workers across seven states. The way the law passed by the House last week is written, employers in every state would be allowed to lower the base wage they pay and count tips earned toward meeting minimum wage requirements. Most states already have laws that provide for a lower minimum wage for workers such as waiters and waitresses who earn tips but, if passed, the new federal law would override laws in seven states that mandate no minimum wage difference for those earning tips at their jobs.

Here's the states where the minimum wage is the same for tipped and non-tipped employees:

The Republican law would dictate a rock-bottom minimum of $2.13 per hour for workers receiving gratuities in all states -- including those seven -- with the difference between that and their state-mandated minimum wage made up with the tips that they currently get above and beyond the higher wage.

So, for a waiter in California, the new law would amount to a salary cut of $4.62 per hour, where the person who used to make $6.75 per hour plus tips, would now only make $2.13 an hour plus tips. Similarly, a bartender in Alaska would lose $5.02 an hour. If they failed to make enough tips to hit their state's minimum wage, the employer would make up the difference.

"Everything that has been achieved in seven states to support low-wage workers who earn tips is destroyed by this bill," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) "This bill would slash the salaries of thousands of workers."

Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has tried many times in this Congress to get standalone bills for a minimum wage increase passed -- and was shot down every time by the Republican majority -- jumped all over this outrage on Monday.

"What this proposal contains is an ingenious proposal, suggested by the restaurant association," said Kennedy. "They say: People who work for tips in the restaurants, they often make $5.25 an hour. They often make that in tips. So why are we required to pay them? They were able to persuade Republicans -- this is strictly a Republican proposal -- to say: If they are going to receive tips, you are only required to pay $2.13 an hour. The rest can be made up in tips. That person still effectively gets the minimum wage. But the restaurant doesn't have to pay that. Do you hear me? They don't have to pay the worker the $5.15 an hour."

But I suppose this is to be expected from the same
National Restaurant Association that fought Kennedy's last attempt at raising the wage rate saying " A federal wage increase to $7.25 per hour, as proposed by Sen. Kennedy, is the largest increase in the entry-level wage rate ever proposed."

Because, as the restaurant guys figure, they want to keep claiming that all of their workers are entry-level and they sure as hell don’t want to give that big of a pay raise and actually have someone who works 40 hours a week making a whopping
$15K per year.

And you need only take a look at the charts below to see why the GOP-controlled House takes these guys so seriously:

It's nice that they choose to hang with Tom DeLay to that extent but just look at how much money they've given to the current Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.

Go figure.

We can only continue to hope that Americans will take the Iraq war, the time wasted on nonsensical wedge issues and add it with a healthy dose of screwing working families with legislation like this to decide how they want to vote this fall.

Said Kennedy on Monday: " Most Americans believe a job ought to get you out of poverty. But those on the other [Republican] side believe if you have a minimum wage job, you ought to remain in poverty. That is a very big, very major difference."

You can reach Bob Geiger at