Labor pushes minimum wage hikes

To counter the anti-people program being put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his corporate backers, the California Labor Federation is putting forward its own program for economic recovery.

Heading the list is AB 48, introduced by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), to raise the state’s minimum wage to $7.25 beginning July 1, 2006. On July 1, 2007, the minimum wage would jump to $7.75 per hour. Thereafter, it would be adjusted automatically for inflation each January 1.

The Alliance for a Better California (ABC) — a broad coalition of labor and community organizations including nurses, teachers and firefighters — is advancing initiatives of its own that target the special interests who have given the governor the largest campaign contributions in state history.

The Equal Voting Requirement Initiative would mandate that reactionary initiatives calling for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes and fees would also have to pass by a two-thirds majority of the voters to become law. This measure is aimed at industrial polluters who want to pass an initiative so they don’t have to be responsible for cleaning up their mess.

Another ABC initiative would make deregulation of energy illegal, putting regulation of utilities and their rates under the control of the Public Utilities Commission.

Because last year Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to protect consumers from car-selling fraud, the alliance is backing a measure to put car buyers in a stronger position. It states that customers have up to three days to return a car they purchase, and puts restrictions on the types of car loans that can be made to unaware car buyers. It also requires smog certification of used vehicles before they are re-sold.

A fourth measure would offer people cheaper prescription drugs. It counters Schwarzenegger’s phony prescription drug plan that relies on “voluntary” discounts from big drug companies, a scheme that has failed in other states.

Measures to raise the minimum wage are in the works in other states as well, according to the PAI news service. In Maryland, the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature voted in early April to raise the state minimum to $6.15 an hour from the current $5.15, the federal minimum. Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich has not said how he will respond to the measure, which would directly aid 55,000 workers.

A bill to raise the wage from $5.15 to $5.90 an hour July 1, and to $6.65 on July 1, 2006, has also passed the Minnesota Senate and is pending in the House.

In Oregon, voters supported raising the minimum to $7.25 an hour. But the Oregon Restaurant Association, which is trying to undo the increase, backs legislation for two exceptions: a sub-minimum “training wage” for workers 18 and under, and a freeze on the minimum for workers earning at least $30 per month in tips.