American workers are growing increasingly fed up that President Barack Obama hasn't been able to deliver on this year's State of the Union promise to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour.
States like California and the District of Columbia are taking matters into their own hands in response to local needs, and the high-profile protests of fast-food workers and other low-wage earners. They want to achieve what Congress and President Obama have yet to accomplish—establishing a living wage for American workers that would deliver a raise to more than 15 million workers.
On Friday, the California Assembly approved a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour—the highest guaranteed wage in the nation. California Governor Jerry Brown has yet to sign the bill, but has indicated his strong support. One-third of California families are considered “low income” and the state has the highest number of “working poor” in the nation.
The Sacramento Bee analyzed Census Bureau data and found that about 1.5 million workers are expected to get a raise if California’s proposed wage hike becomes law.
California isn’t the only one to act where the feds have stalled.
D.C.’s city council was dealt a blow when a bill they approved to raise the minimum wage for "big-box" retailer employees to $12.50 an hour was vetoed last week by Mayor Vincent Gray, under intense lobbying pressure from Walmart and other retailers.
The bill hangs on a key vote this Tuesday, when the D.C. council will determine whether the bill will go through over the mayor’s protest.
“It’s not a huge radical outlandish act that D.C. is making. It’s what workers around the country are demanding,” said Erica Smiley, campaign director for the advocacy group Jobs for Justice, told TakePart.
The bill was approved in July and would raise D.C.’s minimum wage for employees working in “big box” stores to $12.50 an hour. The rule applies to any retail space over 75,000 sq. feet that does not have collective bargaining for its employees and has a parent company with over $1 billion in revenues.
“A win in D.C. sets us up to fight in other parts of the country,” said Smiley.
In August, Walmart Regional General Manager Alex Barron publicly opposed the wage change in an op-ed that raising the minimum wage doesn’t help the company create more middle-class jobs. Barron oversees 90 stores and 30,000 workers in the region that includes D.C.
"This approach is not the way to strengthen our middle class. Not only is it based on a fundamental misunderstanding of labor markets, it doesn't address the real issue—the lack of good jobs in the middle," Barron wrote. "And it fails to understand the role of entry-level jobs, including those in restaurants, hospitality and retail, as a starting point —a chance to build skills and begin taking on bigger jobs."
Barron also said the legislation "is arbitrary, discriminatory, and discourages investment in D.C."
An April 2011 study by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education found raising Walmart workers’ wages to $12 per hour would raise prices for consumers by about 46 cents per trip, or $12.49 a year.
Despite numerous studies indicating that marginally higher wages would have a limited impact on profits and consumer prices, and can even help businesses by eliminating costly turnover, Smiley says she has yet to hear of any major company voicing its support for the D.C. bill.
“My experience so far says that the companies have either been on the same page as Walmart, or been incredibly quiet,” said Smiley.