Although a $15 minimum wage provision of the COVID stimulus bill was tossed aside in the U.S. Senate Thursday, union organizations in Colorado aren’t giving up hope.
The national minimum wage hike, included in the American Rescue Plan Act, was passed by the U.S. House but was declared by the Senate parliamentarian not to be allowed to be part of the larger stimulus package.
Democrats were hoping to keep it in the stimulus bill in order to make it easier to pass, since budget measures introduced through reconciliation need only a simple majority.
A separate, stand-alone bill, called the Raise the Wage Act, which would hike the minimum wage to $15, was introduced in Congress in January.
So, among Colorado Democrats in Congress, this leaves Sen. John Hickenlooper as the outlier.
Hickenlooper ran his presidential campaign partly on his own initiative to raise the federal minimum wage. His plan called for staggering the wage increase across the nation based on living costs in each area.
“Senator Hickenlooper supports a $15 minimum wage and remains hopeful we can find a way to get that important measure across the finish line this Congress,” said a Hickenlooper spokesman in a statement.
But the senator, who also chairs the HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, told the Wall Street Journal last week that he was concerned about the effects a $15 minimum wage would have on small businesses.
Today, local essential service workers rallied outside Hickenlooper’s office in Denver to demand that he show his support for the Raise the Wage Act and for a $15 federal minimum wage in general.
Lauren Martens, executive director of SEIU Colorado State Council, a union representing essential workers, told the Colorado Times Recorder that he thinks it “makes sense” for Hickenlooper to join his fellow Colorado Democrats and his caucus majority in supporting the Raise the Wage Act.
“We would like to see [Hickenlooper] cosponsor the bill, for sure,” said Martens. “And I think that’s part of the call from the action [today].”
Hilary Glasgow, executive director of Colorado WINS–a union that represents state employees–agrees that Hickenlooper needs to step up and stand by his fellow lawmakers.
“Coloradans across the state are now calling on Senator Hickenlooper to stand by his word to raise the federal minimum wage and to join Sen. Bennet and Reps Crow, DeGette, Neguse, and Perlmutter in sponsoring the Raise the Wage Act,” Glasgow told the Colorado Times Recorder. “Sen. Hickenlooper should stop hiding behind archaic processes and rules and do what’s right for Colorado and the rest of the country.”
Despite the minimum wage provision being cut from the COVID stimulus bill, Martens is optimistic about the Raise the Wage Act.
“I think there’s a lot of commitment from folks to see how it can advance,” said Martens. “…The Raise the Wage Act has 37 co-sponsors, including Sen. Bennet for the first time, which is great.”
But the Democratic support for the Raise the Wage Act might not be enough.
According to Vermont Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, there’s little to no chance that any Republicans will vote in favor of a stand-alone bill to increase the minimum wage. And right now, Democrats have a fractured front when it comes to a $15 universal minimum wage by 2025.
Sanders has stated that he plans to force the Senate to vote this week on an amendment to the stimulus bill raising the minimum wage, ignoring the parliamentarian’s rule.
Either way, Democrats will need a united front to have any hope at all, and so Hickenlooper stands out.
Martens urged Colorado Democrats in Congress to do what they were elected to do.
“Our perspective is that they need to get it done. They need to figure out a way. And they campaigned on it,” Martens pointed out. “People need it, and as the president says, people who work full-time shouldn’t live in poverty, and it’s time to fix it. And there’s no excuse based on parliamentary procedure or outdated rules. It’s time to get it done.”
Wage workers were already in tight positions before, but the pandemic has brought societal inequalities to the surface, argues Martens. These inequalities, such as wage inequality, need to be addressed, he says.
“It’s 550,000 people [in Colorado] who would benefit from a raise of the minimum wage to the federal $15,” said Martens. “That would put about $800 million in people’s pockets to spend locally and boost our local economy. So it could be a real part of addressing the inequalities that COVID has exposed even more deeply, and creating a stronger foundation for our economy and for our society.”
It only seems fair, argues Glasgow, that the workers who have served us the most this past year be given a fair wage to keep our economy functioning.
“It’s time we put workers who have helped us get through this pandemic at the center of the economic recovery,” said Glasgow. “Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is the most immediate way to direct money to the people who need it the most: low-wage essential workers like grocery clerks, custodians, delivery drivers, and others who have kept our communities running over the past year.”
UPDATED March 3 with a statement from Hickenlooper’s office.