North Country News
12:30 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

Sanders Sponsoring Minimum Wage Hike

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is sponsoring legislation to increase the federal minimum wage.

When the Senate returns from its Christmas break, Vermont’s junior senator will submit a bill to increase the national minimum wage. The proposal would boost the hourly rate from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 per hour. Independent Bernie Sanders finds the current minimum unacceptable.  “That is a starvation wage. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. Now in Vermont, minimum wage is 8.60. Other states have done even better. But what we want to do is create a situation where if somebody is working 40 hours a week that person, that family, is not living  in poverty.”

Sanders uses WalMart as an example to excoriate corporations benefitting from low wages.  “The Walton family, that owns WalMart, pays their  workers such low  wages, and has such poor benefits, that many of their workers have to go on Medicaid, have to go on food stamps, have to live in government subsidized housing. So you have an enormously wealthy family, the wealthiest family in America, paying their workers inadequate wages and being subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.  That to me is absurd. And if you raise the minimum wage toward somewhere near a living wage, it will not only provide more dignity for working Americans, but it will end this corporate welfare that now exists for families like the Waltons .”

Vermont Grocers’ Association President Jim Harrison says the positive aspect of the minimum wage is its national uniformity, and says Congress should occasionally reconsider it.  “However having said that, artificially increasing the wage by a pretty dramatic amount doesn’t necessarily translate into higher wages overall. What it may do is increase wages for some part-time employees at the expense of full-time employees because, at the end of the day, a business still have to survive and make a bottom line.”

Vermont has the third-highest minimum wage rate in the country. It is currently $8.60 an hour and will increase to $8.73 on January 1st. Harrison finds the minimum wage has failed to translate to higher average wages for Vermonters.   “In some cases it could result in loss of employment and that would be a very detrimental impact.”

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility supports a higher minimum wage. Executive Director Andrea Cohen finds that companies often discover higher wages are better for businesses.   “It’s our experience that if you pay people good wages it actually comes back to you that the bottom line really benefits because you’re able to attract quality employees. So we actually think that once a business starts having experience with better benefits and better wages, they realize it is in fact good for the bottom line.”

Cohen notes that the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage will not have as great an impact in Vermont, but it will move workers closer to a liveable wage.  “You have to look at the whole package, things like health insurance. If in fact we have the Affordable Care Act and people have universal access to affordable health care, it will take some of the pressure off the wages.”

Senator Sanders says the proposed minimum wage increase would affect 30 million Americans.  
Washington and Oregon have the highest minimum wages at $9.19 and $8.95, respectively. Massachusetts’ minimum is $8.00. New York’s minimum wage of $7.25 is scheduled to increase to $8.00 on December 31st.

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