Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin signed a bill raising the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 by June 2008. I like to attend the signings of bills for which I worked--not that it happens very often-- mostly to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just a dream. At least now I have an official state pen to prove it happened…unless I dreamed that too.
(El Cabrero is the kind of boxer who would demand a rematch if he was declared a victor.)
“I’m so proud of this legislation,” Governor Manchin said. He acknowledged that some people viewed the legislation as symbolic, but said it was a good symbol to have. “It says we treat people right in West Virginia.”
As faithful followers of the WV minimum wage struggle know, the symbolic factor is due to arcane language in the state code which exempts most businesses from the law. This was something that was not apparent from reading the legislation. At this point, only about 1,500-2,000 of the state’s estimated 20,000 minimum wage workers will benefit.
Legislation has already been drafted to fix the problem and cover more workers, although this will probably have to wait until the next regular session of the legislature. The bill passed by a wide margin in both houses and some of those who voted against it claimed to do so only because it didn’t cover everyone. In a logical world, that should mean there’s a pretty good chance of success next time. Not that we necessarily live in a logical world…
The coalition which supported the increase included labor, religious organizations, and advocacy and community groups. The struggle here is part of a much larger one to raise the minimum wage in other states and ultimately at the federal level. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign (see link) is an umbrella of many groups working for this.
Although we didn’t get everything we wanted, it was a good start. It will help some people right away and we’ll work on the rest. Most victories in the long struggle for economic and social justice are incremental. And, really, only spoiled brats expect to get everything they want right away all the time (although that would be cool).
More important, the victory here gives momentum to efforts in other states and sends a message to Congress that it’s long past time to raise the federal minimum.
Here’s the link to the article from today’s Charleston Gazette:
(Coming next: thinking about evil)
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