When voters decided it was time to change the nation’s direction and give Democrats the majority in the Senate and House, they also paved the way for the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade.

Says Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.):

America has spoken, and the new Congress will listen. If there’s one message from this election that emerged loud and clear on a domestic issue, it’s raise the minimum wage. No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty!

Kennedy, along with senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and minimum wage activists this afternoon to celebrate the passage Nov. 7 of minimum wage hikes in six states—and the promise of swift congressional action. Speaking at the event, Alicia Russell, head of ACORN’s drive to pass a minimum wage ballot initiative in Arizona, said:

The new Congress should listen and raise the federal minimum wage as soon as they get to work.

Clinton said the 110th Congress will take action quickly:

The new Democratic led Congress will soon deliver on its promise to the American people.

In addition to the Arizona passage, voters in Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio all approved raises in state minimum wage rates above the federal level of $5.15 an hour, where it has been stuck since 1997. A Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration have blocked several attempts to give the nation’s lowest–paid workers a raise.

Says Sweeney:

It’s nothing short of immoral that while shamelessly blocking attempts to raise the federal minimum wage for low-wage workers, the Republican Congress gave itself nine pay raises since 1997—a total $35,000 more than in 1997.

Early on, we understood that a problem this big deserved a national solution, but the Washington of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist wasn’t listening to working people, so we took it on, state by state. The AFL-CIO unions, along with ACORN and other community allies, took bold steps and helped pave the way—state-by-state and piece by piece—toward wage reform through our America Needs A Raise campaign in 19 states.

That not only led to victory in the six ballot measures, but 13 other states this year raised their minimum wage through legislation. On Wednesday, minimum wage activists chalked up another win when the Illinois state Senate approved a bill to raise the state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour and protect it against inflation by indexing it to the cost of living. The Illinois House will next take up the bill. Says Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere:

We cannot wait to see if President Bush will finally agree to sign a federal minimum wage increase under pressure from a Democratic-controlled Congress.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act, which Kennedy will reintroduce in the new Congress, would raise the federal minimum wage by $2.10 over two years—to $7.25 an hour. In the House, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) will introduce a similar bill, and newly elected House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promises action in the first 100 hours of the new Congress in January.

The Bush administration claims it will take a new bipartisan approach during the next Congress, but President Bush has indicated he expects some sort of business trade-off in any minimum wage legislation, and business groups don’t plan to roll over. This year, Bush and Big Business vigorously backed a minimum wage bill that included pay cuts for tip-earning workers and huge tax breaks for million-dollar plus estates. Recent news reports indicate business groups will seek a rerun of the “tip-credit” pay cut.

One expected vote against a Senate bill without any corporate giveaways is Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he not only voted against the Arizona minimum wage measure but also opposes a clean minimum wage bill in the Senate.

Nov 16, 2006 blogaflcio.org