‘Time for Congress to Act’: Sanders, Scott Unveil $17 Federal Minimum Wage Bill

Yves here. While this minimum wage bill is quixotic, it’s still useful in reanchoring perceptions of what a decent pay level amounts to. But restoring labor bargaining power is a serious slog, and the long and harsh history of how worker rights were won in the US is terra incognito. Lynchings and murders of labor leaders were common. Henry Ford had a private army to combat labor action; other companies hired the thuggish Pinkerton. So don’t kid yourself that any path back will be easy.

By Jessica Corbett. Originally published at Common Dreams

Economic justice advocates applauded Tuesday as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congressman Bobby Scott formally introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2023, which would increase the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $17 by 2028.

The legislation was first announced in May but the lawmakers finally unveiled the bill text a day after the 14th anniversary of the last time the national wage floor was lifted. In the years since 2009, the Fight for $15 movement has pressured several U.S. state and local governments to boost wages, but Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have blocked similar federal efforts.

“The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It must be raised to a living wage—at least $17 an hour,” Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said in a statement. “In the year 2023, a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.”

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality and record-breaking corporate profits, we can no longer tolerate millions of workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for totally inadequate wages. Congress can no longer ignore the needs of the working class of this country. The time to act is now.”

Scott (D-Va.) declared that “no person working full-time in America should be living in poverty. The Raise the Wage Act will increase the pay and standard of living for nearly 28 million workers across this country.”

That works out to about a fifth of the U.S. workforce, according to the Economic Policy Institute—which also found in an analysis published Tuesday that the bill “would provide an additional $86 billion annually in wages for the country’s lowest-paid workers, with the average affected worker who works year-round receiving an extra $3,100 per year.”

Scott, ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, stressed that “raising the minimum wage is good for workers, good for business, and good for the economy. When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they will spend that money in their communities.”

At a Tuesday press conference to promote the bill, Scott was joined by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Labor Caucus Co-Chair Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), Well-Paid Maids owner Aaron Seyedian, and Frances Holmes, who makes $13 an hour working a seasonal job at a baseball stadium St. Louis, Missouri.

“I’ve been in the Fight for $15 for a decade and I’m here to plead with Congress, the senators, people that vote, just anybody that’ll hear our story,” said Holmes, explaining her difficulty paying for rent, utilities, and food for her family. “Workers like me, we need your help.”

Along with hiking the federal minimum wage over five years, the bill would phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers, teens, and people with disabilities, and tie future increases to median wage growth. In addition to Sanders and Scott, the legislation is co-sponsored by 146 House members and 29 senators.

The bill is also backed by dozens of groups, including the AFL-CIO, Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, Demand Progress, Indivisible, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Employment Law Project, National Network to End Domestic Violence, One Fair Wage, Oxfam America, Patriotic Millionaires, Service Employees International Union, and United for Respect.

“Raising the federal wage floor is the single most efficient, effective—and wildly popular—bipartisan tool we have to deliver economic stability to working people,” said Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock.

“Moreover, doing so will strengthen and expand the economic base for businesses across the country,” Pearl added. “To preserve American democratic capitalism, we must raise the wage floor substantially and close its gaping holes. This piece of legislation is a step in the right direction.”

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  1. ambrit

    Yves mentioned the associated issue of Union bargaining power and the often bloody path to what the American Unions used to have in the way of influence over the nation’s economic conditions. I noticed that one of the supporting groups for the bill was an organization named “Patriotic Millionaires.” This demonstrates another cause for the plight of the working class in America today; the extreme segregation of wealth in the society. The real economic power in America today rests in the hands of the Billionaires. Mere Millionaires now are beginning to understand that they are no longer considered ‘elite’ enough to have a seat at the table when policy is being determined. The lesson to be learned from this is that tax policy is social engineering. A return to the days off that arch-Communist Dwight Eisenhower and the 90% tax rate for millionaires is now crucial. Otherwise, economic power will be gathered into fewer and fewer hands, until we end up with a true Oligarchy.
    As I have pointed out before, no serious social ‘reform’ movement, at least in America, gains traction unless there is a credible threat of physical violence behind or adjacent to it. The history of the Union movement, as Yves mentioned in the opening to the post, is replete with instances of blood in the streets. Extending the idea just a little, Union strikes, of any sort, are basically instances of economic violence committed against the holders of capital. It has been long enough since the Union wars of the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds that we have lost our societal “institutional memory” and are fated to have to learn that hard lesson all over again.
    Stay safe.

    1. Bruno

      “until we end up with a true Oligarchy.” What’s false about the oligarchy we have now (and always have had)?

    2. Hepativore

      In the event of a “violent uprising”, the owners of capital also have arms and munitions as well as the military and police themselves that they would gladly turn on the population without hesitation.

      While the union wars of yesteryear were indeed a violent backlash against various oligarchs, just how far would we get in an era of drone bombings, omnipresent surveillance, and assault rifles?

      It would be hard to mount an effective fight against a cadre of elites that have control of weapons that can level entire cities and everyone in them. The battle would be over before it began.

      Most likely people will have become so used to the lopsided and worsening economic system we are in, that no uprisings will occur as most people will lack the capacity or experience to imagine things being any other way. When the boomers die off, nobody will be left who even remembers the New Deal era, so I can see it as becoming culturally regarded as an impossible utopian legend.

  2. ALM

    Sanders just endorsed the man who killed the $15/hr. minimum wage. That Hakeem Jeffries participated in the bill’s roll-out is positive proof that the bill is DOA. And Sanders knows it. So why not shoot for $25/hr. which would actually be a living wage? Meanwhile, Sanders has proven, repeatedly, that he is not serious about reform because the cost to his career would be too high. Nonetheless, he continues to string Arby’s workers along. Pathetic. It is notable that a former Blackrock director is on board now that he has made his millions presumably the Blackrock way by exploiting labor.

    1. Jeff N

      Five days before monthlong congressional recess. Plenty of time to forget it was even introduced

    2. The Rev Kev

      It seems like such a long time since there was so much talk about $15 an hour minimum wage. But I think that all went away as soon as old Joe got elected. Same with medicare for all. I don’t think that the media has really talked about that at all for the past two years.

    3. ChrisRUEcon

      Bust out the “fighting for” trope again. Must be (approaching) an election year. This is why many have abandoned Sanders since the last election. You can’t endorse toads like Jefferies and expect anyone who’s been paying attention to believe that this is anything but an election cycle carrot. Do-Nothing-Dems are fixing to lose in ’24 and blame it on Russia again.


      1. Old Ghost

        Pressure keeps building for change: abortion rights, progressive taxation of the wealthy, medicare-for-all, a living wage, (also needed: a living pension for social security folks). But the billionaires who fund both parties seem happy with the system as it is.

        I think the Team “D” plan is to hope that old Austerity Joe doesn’t croak before the 2024 vote, and that Team R will run the former loser (and career criminal) again.

        I sense no enthusiasm for either party. Nor for Bernie Sanders this time around.

  3. cosmo

    Lets be clear here and do the math…. $17/hour x 8hours/day=$136/day, gross income… $136x 5 days/week=$680/week… $680/weekx 50 weeks/year=$34000/year, annual gross income….

    Thats $34k per year with no days off and 2 weeks holiday….2833/month minus taxes, FICA and all the other withholding… I don’t know about you, but I consider that the poverty line

    1. JBird4049

      I would have it known that just north of $17,000 is the federal poverty line for one person.

      1. cosmo

        We all know how the govt sets stats where they benefit themselves the most…. Just consider trying to live on just under $1500/month. ..Perhaps that explains the growing homeless population

  4. tegnost

    What impact would a rise in the min wage have on the poverty level, now something like $11,500, and thus social security, food stamps and the like?

  5. Insouciant Iowan

    Apparently Sanders used his calculator and a 2% annual inflation rate to arrive at $17/hr. At that rate, by 2028 minimum wage is approaching $19/hr. A calculated “living wage” for 1 person in Iowa is $15.30/hr.

  6. Tim

    I think it would be better to tie the Federal Minimum wage to the local COLA (cost of living adjustments) factor the US military and other government organizations use to manage salaries across the country.

    That way the minimum wage can account for the dramatic cost of living differences that exist.

    It’s understandable why republican states, which tend to have low cost of living and subsequently lower salaries and purchasing power get upset when a federal amount is imposed on them that really does put pressure on businesses, that doesn’t exist in higher cost democratic states.

  7. Jeremy Grimm

    It’s time for me to re-watch my copy of the film “Matewan” and listen to my recording of Paul Robeson singing “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night”.

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