March 13, 2006

MINIMUM WAGE WRAP UP

It is the devout hope of El Cabrero not to use the words “minimum wage” again for a long time. It’s bad enough to watch the goats swagger around and listen to them bragging (see previous post). Still, a wrap-up might be in order.

THE GOOD NEWS. The legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 4023 which raises the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 per hour by June 30, 2008. Odds were very high against the passage of this bill, particularly in the Senate, where it was referenced to three committees, usually a sign that a bill is destined to fail. It nearly crashed and burned at several points in the last few days. The bill was amended in the Senate to include state employees. A handful will benefit by the change this year, but the number will increase in the future.

THE LESS GOOD NEWS. Although you couldn’t tell by reading it, the bill does not cover most employers in the state. This is due to exemptions and definitions in state law and reportedly a state Supreme Court decision. It has been estimated that at first only about 1,500 or so of the approximately 20,000 minimum wage workers in West Virginia will benefit right away. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

THE NEXT STEPS. We need to start working now on next year’s campaign to amend the law so that it covers everyone. This will take a little research and also will involve keeping intact and building upon the coalitions that made this happen.

SPEAKING OF WHICH. The success of this campaign showed the power of diverse coalitions. Speaking in very general terms, the key partners were (aside from the goats) labor, the religious community, and advocacy groups and community organizations. These groups haven’t always worked together in the past but are getting a whole lot better at it. This shows what coalitions can do. There were also some very dedicated people in the WV House and Senate who pushed this issue to the center stage.

STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE. This victory will probably have significance beyond West Virginia. Several campaigns are now in progress to raise state minimum wages. Anytime another state does so, it makes it easier to argue for doing it somewhere else.

The location of WV is also significant. Most of the states with higher minimums are in the northeast or west. There is a lot of ground we need to take in the south and the center.
It’s one thing to say that it happened in California or Massachusetts and another to say it happened in West Virginia. Finally, every state win should add to the pressure on Congress to raise the minimum for everyone.

So nice job, folks--us hillbillies did it again! Jog a victory lap.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL. NOT SO DEEP AS A WELL NOR SO WIDE AS A CHURCH DOOR BUT ‘TIS ENOUGH ‘TWILL SERVE

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