The National Employment Law Project (NELP) commends Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2021. This bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, eliminate the discriminatory subminimum wages for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities, and index the minimum wage to average wage growth so that it can never stagnate again like it has over the past four decades.
Since fast-food workers in New York City first walked off the job in 2012, demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union, workers across the country have won billions of dollars in increases in minimum wages by coming together and organizing for change. These transformative campaigns have been led by Black and brown workers and supported by large majorities of all demographic groups in their communities—because workers and communities recognize that we are all dependent on each other, and that when the most underpaid workers get raises, it is good for everyone.
Meanwhile, corporate interest groups and their allies in government have continued to fight wage increases in Congress and in many states, even using the law to shut down local raises in cities where Black workers and other workers of color have led campaigns, like Birmingham, Alabama. In spite of the clearly negative impacts on Black and brown workers, there are still 20 states that have not raised their minimum wages beyond the paltry $7.25 federal minimum wage, and many more that have only marginally higher minimum wages than the federal floor. Congress should heed the demands of workers, communities of color, and their constituents and not waste any more time in passing the Raise the Wage Act.
“Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is a long overdue measure that will benefit millions of workers and all of our communities across the country,” said NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon. “It is long past time for Congress to listen to the Black and brown workers who have led the Fight for $15 and a union movement and pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.”
Raising wages has never been more urgent than during this pandemic, as frontline workers in industries ranging from retail, to food service, to transportation, to healthcare, to custodial are underpaid and cannot make ends meet. Many of those who are struggling in this pandemic and recession crisis are workers of color on the COVID-19 frontlines, who are at greater risk of contracting the virus and more likely to suffer severe health impacts, including death, if they contract it. If Congress wants to do more than pay lip service to frontline workers, we must listen to their demands, including those for higher wages for all workers.
Moreover, raising the minimum wage and eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers is a critical racial and gender justice issue. Occupational segregation has shunted far too many workers of color, and women in particular, into underpaid jobs and those in tip-earning industries. Because workers of color are disproportionately in jobs that pay less than $15 an hour, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 will help decrease racial and gender wealth gaps—with Black women workers benefitting the most from the raises.
“Congress should use this opportunity to finally pass a $15 minimum wage bill and to end once and for all the racist and ableist exclusions in this vital worker protection,” said Rebecca Dixon. “NELP is excited to fight for the Raise the Wage Act alongside workers, our partners, and community members across the country—and we look forward to pairing this urgent measure with further structural change to build worker power and dismantle structural racism.”
The time to pass this legislation is long overdue, and we call on all members of Congress to follow the will of their constituents and pass this bill as quickly as possible.
Read NELP’s fact sheet with the Economic Policy Institute on Why the U.S. Needs a $15 Minimum Wage.