Terrence Wise needs a raise. So did his Mom. She never got enough of a raise to lift her and her family out of poverty. Wise wants Congress to do that for himself, his fiancée, and his three daughters. So Wise (right), 39, who works at two fast food jobs in Kansas City, Mo., came to Capitol Hill Thursday to tell lawmakers his tale and urge them to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Democrats liked what they heard; the Republicans didn’t.
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Wise was one of a parade of witnesses at the Democratic-run House Education and Labor Committee’s first hearing in approximately a decade on raising the minimum wage. Their bill, HR582, is a key piece of the Democrats’ economic agenda in the new 116th Congress. Wise joined AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs and other pro-worker witnesses in advocating that it’s time to raise the federal minimum, which has been at $7.25 an hour for ten years. The last actual hike was in three stages, from 2007-2009.
While Spriggs, Zipperer and the GOP witnesses talked policy and macroeconomic impact, Wise, a leader in the K.C. area “Fight for $15 and a union” movement, told the panel of what it’s like living on the minimum wage. Wise, who made A’s consistently in high school and whose teachers placed him in AP courses and encouraged his college aspirations, had to drop out and take fast food jobs to help his Mom feed their family. He never went to college. “I’m a second-generation fast food worker,” he testified. “And just asking the boss for a raise and benefits wasn’t enough.” Even with two incomes and food stamps, his mother, father, Wise and his siblings couldn’t get out of poverty. The same is true for Wise, his fiancée and three teenaged daughters. He doesn’t want the girls to share his fate.
The “Fight for 15 and a union” movement in Kansas City thought it had won big for workers like Wise when its city council – like the one in St. Louis – passed an ordinance ordering a raise in K.C.’s minimum wage to $15 over a period of years. But the GOP-run Missouri legislature stepped in, aided and abetted by then-Gov. Eric Greitens (R), and overrode the two ordinances, stripping all Missouri cities of their right to raise wages and set other labor standards. Such power-stripping is one characteristic of a large package of anti-worker state laws pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and others.
The committee did not say when it would vote on HR582, but the Raise The Wage bill was the first on its hearing list in this Congress.
- Mark Gruenberg, PAI staff writer