Saturday, April 25, 2015

Low Income Workers and Climate Activists have found a Common Enemy

One of my friends posted on social media that someone told her “I don’t care about the environment I care about people?” while she was tabling for Earth Day. First of all, there is no need for any environment versus the people divisiveness because "The People" and "The Environment" have a common enemy in the corporate elite and their compliant political puppets!

This Earth Day, I was with a group of climate activists who were making our voices heard at the State Capitol vocalizing against an Energy Omnibus House bill primarily on behalf of environmental concerns. But then the headline about that same bill which came out of the Star Tribune the next day was on behalf of people Minnesota House passes lower minimum wage for tip workers.” 

So in honor of “caring about people more than environment”, the MN State House Celebrated Earth Day by passing a bill 73-56 that would lower the minimum wage for employees who receive tips of at least $4 per hour. This sends a “you are making too much money” message to workers who make $14 or $15 an hour with tips.  
The bills twin poison pill is prohibiting cities or the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from enacting a higher minimum wage than the state minimum. It is basically big government telling local government there is no choice. Mark Dayton’s call for a $10 minimum wage for airport workers and the Minneapolis City Council looking into a $15 minimum wage plus Seattle winning $15 per hour must have struck a nerve with those waging war on what people make.
Rep. Ryan Winkler had an amendment to stop these poison pills, but it was voted down on the same 56-73 lines.
While I am not making any claims about the optimal level the minimum wage should be, I’d like to offer this logic that I heard a legislator make: 

1: If fundamental opposition to a higher minimum wage was their issue they had against the Winkler Amendment 


2: if they were actually genuine in their confidence that higher minimum wage would lead to disaster with restaurants and taverns being forced out of business…

…Then the anti-wage hike folks ought to be in favor of giving local control a chance here.
If a city does do a $12 or $15 per hour minimum wage and if it leads to disaster according to their fear-mongering script, then that would be good for their political agenda against minimum wage jumps. But so far, unemployment has only gone down since MN passed the $9.50 minimum wage last year. If there is an example of a city that gets $15 per hour minimum wage and it causes and upward spiral of attracting workers rather than a downward spiral of detracting employers, then it would be very dangerous to their agenda and would provide an inspirational example for more cities and towns to replicate.

The retort I heard from the anti-wage hike legislators was to trust local and private enterprise and contracts between private people is the purest level of local control there can be. Rep. Steve Drazkowski decried "efforts by government to socialize wages” as a move by those who think they can direct people’s lives better than their own personal contracts. But I heard pro-wage hike legislators make a case that the practical consequences of refusal to raise the wage on people who can’t make ends meet only creates demand for more government subsidies and the child care does not magically appear. Reducing everything down to personal contracts fails to recognize that it is not a level playing field for everyone. The American Dream is never achieved in isolation and the tables have tilted too far.
Many in the DFL caucus accused the GOP of double-talking so much about being for local control and against central government overreach but then not actually trusting local control in this one case of minimum wage. To these accusations, Rep. Pat Garofalo retorted “What if localities want to set their minimum wages below the state level” It was later clarified that state statute as it exists sets a floor for minimum wage while cities can legally go beneath.
Rep. Jim Davnie commented “The rousing condemnation of democracy by the GOP is stunning here.” Garofalo responded that both parties are for local control when its policy they agree with but against local control when its policy they disagree with. A certainly valid point, but in principle, local government is the level that is closest to the people.
Here is an interesting story from the April 22nd session: I heard Rep. Pat Garofalo used Betsy Hodges’ statement opposing a $15 hour minimum wage for Minneapolis to provide ammunition for making an argument against any local minimum wage increase altogether. Garofalo was then asked if he had spoken with Betsy Hodges about this issue to find out what she really meant on the issue. Garofalo said that he did write Betsy Hodges but did not hear back. Then an hour or so later, Rep. Phyllis Kahn announced she had in hand a letter that Mayor Hodges mailed to Garofalo dated March 26th. Garofalo then stated he did not know he even received the letter.
Representative Runbeck then shared some firm positions on the issue calling a $15 per hour minimum wage extreme, ridiculous, dangerous and that small restaurants will close or replace their staff with automation. She said the word “skills” was missing from the discussion among the left and that the market pays for what skills you have. So therefore she argued, low wages should not imply anything wrong about the employer. But does that rule out any possibility that bosses can pay good employees less than their value? Runbeck then added “And if what skill you have does not warrant a higher wage then go out and get a new skill.” That may be technically true, however I heard another legislator say the Republicans are not willing to put enough into higher education programs to make that even possible for people who can’t afford the up-front costs in the first place. Runbeck then said greater productivity is the key to earning higher wages. But it is fairly common knowledge that productivity has been going up, people are working harder, and wages are stagnant because the bulk of the money is being funneled away to the super-rich. So overall this is a binocular trick of only thinking of the costs of raising wages and nothing of the benefits.
Representative Thissen brought up a deep challenge to the bill. He suspected it was a cut and paste ALEC bill which GOP house members did not actually read before automatically deciding to march in favor of it. He said,” This will be a lawyers dream bill” because it has unacceptably broad and overreaching and would require localities to retrofit ordinances retroactively. The language defines the term benefit as so broadly constrained that it can make anti-discrimination ordinances or a whole range of benefits to no longer apply. I am not exactly sure how to explain it clearer, but I hope I at least gave enough info for anyone to ask Thissen about it. What gets to the heart of the issue is the ability of the local community to express its values by its ordinances such as minimum wage among other benefits. 

A DFL legislator summing up this move of “holding workers down” as “just a giveaway for campaign contributors.”

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