While there is much happening in the political world today, we are focusing this blog on the current renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and what that means for the working people of America. Today, there is a federal minimum wage for nonexempt employees of $7.25 per hour, which was set in 2009, with some states having additional minimum wage laws. With the renegotiation of NAFTA, the AFL-CIO has submitted a list of proposals, which includes a request for a living wage for workers.
Under this agreement, all workers would be paid enough to afford “food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing, and other essential needs, including the ability to save for retirement and emergencies” in the region where they live — essentially increasing their compensation to a level above the poverty line.
The term “living wage” originated in Baltimore in 1994 when the first-ever living wage ordinance was passed after the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a group of religious leaders successfully campaigned for an ordinance that city service contractors pay living wages. Since that first ordinance was passed, there have been more than 100 similar ordinances around the country. The “living wage” concept has been used by a variety of groups, political parties, and even neighborhood associations.
WHO IS BEHIND THESE CAMPAIGNS
The labor unions most involved with the living wage effort are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Association of Federal State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE). Additionally, the AFL-CIO has sponsored national conferences and multiple campaigns around the country as part of its “America Needs a Raise.”
GOALS OF CAMPAIGNS
While different organizations and groups have different goals behind their living wage campaigns, we want to touch on a few of those goals:
- Discourage outsourcing of government jobs
- Address extreme poverty and economic inequality
- Raise the wage floor
- Set higher wage standards
- Encourage nonunion workers to unite and organize
- Build strong coalitions
AN ONGOING EFFORT
The fight to raise the minimum wage nationwide is an ongoing one in each and every state. The living wage fight isn’t just coming from employees of big employers. Small business owners have also shared their feelings. One Germantown, Pennsylvania business owner said, “[A raised wage] puts more money in the pockets of our employees, increases the sales of local businesses, strengthens the overall economy, and contrary to popular belief, it will not cost jobs.”
At a press conference at The Space at GreenStar, an office manager shared his views on living wage campaigns saying, “Any employer’s capacity to pay better wages also has much more increased benefits in terms of retention and ability to have a stable workforce within one’s environment.”
While the federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since it was set on July 24, 2009, as these living wage campaigns continue to ignite conversations among legislators throughout the country, we can assume that more and more cities across the U.S. will establish living wage laws.