LOUISVILLE, Ky. - "Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has voted against every minimum wage increase since he's been in the U.S. Senate. But he's voted for his own raise and now he's worth $25 million," said Kentucky AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan. "There's something wrong with that."
Londrigan was speaking at a rally in front of the "Give America a Raise" bus that had stopped in downtown Louisville as part of a 10-state tour aimed at Republican members of Congress who are obstructing passage of a minimum wage increase.
The bus tour is being organized by Americans United for Change and sponsored locally by the AFL-CIO, UAW and Kentucky Jobs with Justice. It will end up at a rally at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 3.
The minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn't been raised since 2009. Meanwhile the price of food, utilities, housing and other basic necessities continue to rise making it nearly impossible to live on $15,000 a year.
If the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, as President Obama has proposed, 28 million Americans would see a larger paycheck. It would mean an increase in buying power of $51 billion, generating new economic activity and jobs.
Over 700,000 or 1 in 5 people live in poverty in Kentucky and would benefit. Polls show nearly 60% of Kentuckians support raising the idea and have said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the minimum wage increase in the November elections.
"No one can tell me that the wages are in touch with inflation. All prices continue to go up but the wages remain the same," said George Ross, a manufacturing worker. "You're not going to be able to send your daughter or your son to college making $7.25 an hour. I put out a challenge to anyone of these legislators who has anything to do with this to take care of yourself and your family on $7.25, and you'll see how extremely difficult it is."
Another of those who spoke was Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes who is challenging McConnell for the Senate. As of this writing Grimes leads in the polls.
"If we raise the wage to $10.10 an hour we lift the wages of 1 in 4 Kentuckians, increase the incomes for over 30% in our state," said Grimes.
"Mitch McConnell says raising the minimum wage will be the last thing he puts his name to. When I am in the Senate it will be the first thing I put my name to," she said.
"Kentucky and indeed the nation are tired of a senator of yesterday, who champions yesterday's minimum wage, treatment of women, coddling of Wall Street. They want a senator of today who will fight for the future of Kentucky."
A living wage in Louisville is calculated to be $17 an hour for one adult and one child. "We're talking about (the current minimum wage of) $7.25," said UAW local 862 President Todd Dunn. "A majority of minimum wage earners are women, many single mothers. My mother was a single mother and I can't imagine her raising our family on that kind of wage."
"We must raise the wage," said Councilwoman Attica Scott, the former director of Kentucky Jobs with Justice. "We cannot afford the price of poverty. We know when we raise the wage we lift working families out of poverty."
A bill passed the Kentucky House of Representatives in February raising the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour but it is stalled in the Senate. Insisting working families could not wait on the obstructionist Republican Congress or the statehouse to act, Scott and other city council members are introducing legislation to raise the minimum wage in Louisville. She urged people to attend a public hearing on April 14 and tell their stories.
Photo: Alison Grimes speaking in Louisville. John Bachtell/PW