Minimum Wage Hikes Just Start of Justice for Workers

A new year has brought increased pay for nearly 7 million low-wage workers in 22 states.

Thanks to a mix of lawmakers or voters themselves approving minimum wage hikes (and cost-of-living adjustments) in recent years, those at the bottom of the pay scale are getting much-deserved raises, ranging from a $1.50 an hour in Washington state and New Mexico to 10 cents an hour in Florida.

Those pay increases have resulted in the nation’s lowest-paid workers getting their biggest wage bump in more than a decade. Before, pay was largely stagnant for those at the bottom of the economic ladder despite the tightening job market. But the public has increasingly insisted that corporations pay their fair share. And more elected officials have listened.

Despite warnings from many big business interests that state and local efforts to raise the minimum wage would hurt companies, that hasn’t happened. Seattle was panned when it passed a $15 minimum wage in 2014, but it hasn’t had any appreciable negative affect on businesses. Workers, however, have clearly benefitted.

Still, hardworking Americans have a long ways to go to keep up with those at the top of the pay scale. The top one percent of earners have seen their wages rise by almost 158 percent since 1979, compared to the bottom 90 percent of the workforce, which has seen pay rise only 24 percent during that same period.

Rising wages must go beyond just those at the bottom of the wage floor. But how does that happen? The Teamsters have identified a method to doing so as part of its 2020 issue priorities – expanding collective bargaining rights.

This union is a strong supporter of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which was approved by a House committee last September. It would restore fairness to the economy at a time when income inequality has stifled the ability of far too many workers to earn a decent wage that allows them to support their families. The bill would beef up the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so that those seeking to organize a union and negotiate higher wages and better benefits will be protected.

This legislation increases penalties on employers who break the law and gives workers a private right of action if they’ve been terminated for union activity. It prohibits the use of coercive activities like captive audience meetings and establishes a process for mediation and arbitration to stop stalling tactics at the bargaining table and help parties achieve a first contract.

Research shows that workers want unions. There is a huge gap between the share of workers with union representation and the share of workers that would like to have a union and a voice on the job. The PRO Act would take a major step forward in closing that gap.

Increased union membership would pave a path to prosperity for U.S. workers.