Today’s Senate Minimum Wage Vote Is A Moral Litmus Test

Isaiah J. Poole

The Senate is expected to vote today on whether to proceed to final debate on a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It’s a key political vote that separates who stands with working people and who doesn’t. But, more importantly, it’s a vote that measures the morality and character of each member of the Senate.

We were reminded of that latter fact Tuesday as a group of faith leaders from around the country issued a letter to members of the Senate calling on them to vote in favor of the legislation.

“We represent diverse faith traditions, but we share a common conviction that the dignity of work and the security of the family are non-negotiable moral values. Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family,” began the letter, signed by more than 350 clergy members of various faiths.

“For the minimum wage to be moral and just, it must be a living family wage.”

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans are committed to filibustering the minimum-wage legislation, Roll Call reports. Even though broad majorities of the public have registered support for increasing the minimum wage, Republicans have vowed to not even allow the minimum wage bill to be debated on the merits on the Senate floor and face an up-or-down vote. Because the Republican leadership knows that the minimum wage increase would pass on an up-or-down vote, they are using their power to block that vote.

For that reason, we are asking people today to flood their members of the Senate with phone calls asking them to vote for a minimum wage increase by voting yes on today’s motion to continue debate. Call 202-517-2321 to send a direct message to your member of the Senate.

The Senate vote coincides with lobbying days for the National Restaurant Association, which represents the fast-food and casual dining restaurants that are the worst offenders when it comes to suppressing wages and, at times, engaging in outright wage theft.

Earlier this week on our site Sam Pizzigati explained how the restaurant industry, and other low-wage corporations, double-fleece taxpayers as they hold down wages and throw further out of balance the earnings of workers and those of top executives.

By opposing increases in the minimum wage – including the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has not increased since the early 1990s – taxpayers spend about $7 billion a year in assistance payments to close the gap between what workers are paid and what they need to meet their most basic expenses. Taxpayers also subsidize the outsize salaries of the CEOs of low-wage employers – to the tune of $232 million in 2012 and 2013 for just the top 20 restaurant chains, Pizzigati wrote. These CEOs earn, on average, more than 1,000 times the salary of an average fast-food worker.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice,” writes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, condemning those who build “spacious” houses “with large upper rooms” on the backs of exploited workers. The Bible is full of such admonitions, such as Malachi’s warning of God’s judgement against “those who oppress the hired workers in their wages.”

Fairness and generosity to the worker, and condemnation of the greedy, is a common principle of the world’s major religions. So it is shameful – immoral, really – that so many members of the Senate merely shrug at the fact that earnings of the top 1 percent have grown almost seven times higher than those in the middle-income range since 1979, and use their wealth and advantage to maintain their wildly outsize share of the wealth all of us have produced.

Those who would have the Senate vote against an increase in the minimum wage would have us believe that we should accept a nation in which the nation’s wealthiest companies deprive their workers of just wages but lavish their top executives with salaries that in one day can equal the annual pay of four or more minimum-wage workers. They would have us believe that we should be unwilling to pay a few extra cents for a hamburger or an item at the big-box store so that the person who serves us our food or rings up our purchases at the register can feed themselves and their family a decent meal in a decent home.

What we are prepared to do for the least among us is a central test of our moral principles. If Republicans carry out their threat to block a vote on the minimum wage, they and the Democrats who join them will not only fail a political litmus test. They will have failed a moral one as well.


Call 202-517-2321 to tell your member of the Senate to vote “yes” on today’s vote to advance legislation that would increase the minimum wage.

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