Marjories Elizabeth Wood: Lobbying to sustain inequality
Congress will soon vote on a measure that would raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 and bring the tipped wage to 70 percent of the full minimum.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act would give millions of American workers a long-overdue raise. Today’s $7.25-per-hour minimum isn’t a living wage anywhere in America. In fact, the average cost of living in America would require closer to $15 per hour.
As for tipped workers, their wages have been frozen in place at $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. As the White House recently announced, women would be most affected by a tipped wage increase as they make up more than 70 percent of restaurant workers.
Public support for a minimum wage hike is overwhelming. A recent Gallup poll shows that 76 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage.
With such decisive backing, the Fair Minimum Wage Act ought to be a no-brainer. Yet, passage in Congress is expected to be contentious. Why? Because the bill’s main opponents are large, profitable corporations with an excessive lobbying influence in Washington.
This predicament has prompted several states not to wait around on Congress. As of January 2014, 13states now have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum of $7.25.
From only a dozen or so in the early 1960s to thousands today, corporate lobbyists in Washington are spending more than ever to defeat common sense legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of big business, has nearly doubled its spending over the last decade to $80 million in 2013. The National Restaurant Association, which represents companies like McDonald’s and Applebee’s, has more than doubled its spending since 2003
Large, wealthy corporations are the majority — 66 percent — of low-wage employers in America. According to the National Employment Law Project, the 50 largest employers of low-wage workers are highly profitable, large corporations with executive compensation averaging $9.4 million.
One of the most aggressive lobbying forces against the Fair Minimum Wage Act has been the National Restaurant Association. Nearly 60 percent of the food services workforce is low-wage, the highest percentage of any industry. A small raise for these workers would mean only a slight cut in corporate profits. Yet, greedy CEOs and wealthy investors won’t budge.
Like most low-wage employers, the restaurant industry can afford to pay more. With record-breaking profits exceeding $660 billion in 2013, the industry is more profitable than ever.
Corporate lobbying against the minimum wage is a stark example of how corporations are stoking inequality. As wealth grows more concentrated at the top, corporate lobbyists are working hard to prevent even modest raises for the workers who create their wealth.
But Americans can stop this racket. Let’s give workers the raise they deserve, and send a message to corporate America: Our democracy is not for sale.
MARJORIE ELIZABETH WOOD is an OtherWords columnist.