fresh voices from the front lines of change







Sontia Bailey, a full-time federally contracted cashier at the U.S. Capitol, gets paid a mere $10.10 an hour. She works a second job at KFC, which actually pays more than her government contract job. She clocks in 70 hours each week to make ends meet, which leaves her time for only five hours of sleep each night.

Bailey’s exhausting work schedule has taken a toll on her health; she had a miscarriage two weeks ago due to complications from sleep exhaustion and stress.

“I had a miscarriage at 3 a.m., alone,” she said.

Bailey was rushed to a hospital less than three hours before she usually wakes up for her regular grueling work week.

Sontia Bailey shouldn’t have to work two jobs just two get by. If Bailey was paid a living wage, she just might have a living child.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus understand the dire need for workers across America to have a living wage, good benefits, and a right to unionize. Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), and Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) joined hundreds of supporters from Good Jobs Nation outside of the Capitol to introduce new $15 federal minimum wage legislation and call for a “$15 and a Union” executive order for federal workers.

The bill, titled “Pay Workers a Living Wage Act” would in steps move to a $15 minimum wage by 2020, starting from $9 in 2016. In addition, it places provisions for the minimum wage to be “indexed to the median hourly wage” after 2020.

The unfair tipped minimum wage of $2.13 will also be eliminated gradually. “They call it a tipped wage,” said Ellison. “I call it a starvation wage.”

According to the bill summary, 53 million U.S. workers make less than $15 per hour. This includes over half of all African-American workers and almost 60 percent of Latino workers. In addition, almost half of workers making less than $15 per hour are age 35 or older. These aren’t just teens working part-time jobs.

“The American people need a raise,” said Sanders. “We have got to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and we are introducing legislation today to do just that.”

With Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, it is highly unlikely that this legislation will go through anytime soon. Republicans’ main argument is that raising the minimum wage will cause businesses to raise prices on consumer goods, dragging down our economy.

However, everyday taxpayers are actually bearing more costs because of starvation wages. Low-wage workers are enrolled in public assistance programs at more than twice the rate of the overall workforce. Over half of all fast food employees (many of which are federally contracted) require public assistance, which cost taxpayers $7 billion in 2013.

Given the poor odds of legislative action, members are continuing to press President Obama to sign a Model Employer Executive Order, which would increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour and make it easier for federal contract workers to unionize.

President Obama signed an executive order in 2013 to raise the minimum wage of federally contracted workers to $10.10. In his 2014 State of the Union Address, he also called on members of Congress to increase the minimum wage for all workers to $10.10.

$10.10 is not enough. As Obama put it, “nobody who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

Businesses are taking advantage of shortchanged workers, and depend on the government to pick up the tab for basic necessities like food, health care and housing. Our American workers deserve better; they deserve a living wage. Rep. Chu described the current federal minimum wage as a “shameful reality.”

The federal government is one step behind cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis for introducing proposals for a $15 minimum wage. Today, New York state’s panel examining the minimum wage for fast-food workers even recommended today that the minimum wage of fast-food workers in the state be raised to $15.

“When workers don’t have to worry about how they are going to feed their families or pay the rent, they become better workers. And when low-wage workers get a raise they spend their money in local businesses and that creates more jobs, not less,” explained Sen. Sanders. “It’s time to reduce poverty, expand the economy, and create good paying jobs! It’s time to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

Joshua Ferrer contributed to this post.

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