By Lynda Jones, Editor
Back in May, hundreds of Milwaukee fast-food and retail workers rallied and marched a one-day protest to demand higher wages and better work conditions from these employers.
This week, three members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus including Wisconsin’s own Congresswoman Gwen Moore joined fast-food and retail workers to call for an end to wage theft and raising minimum wage.
Congressmen Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Danny Davis of Illinois along with Moore joined the ‘Raise up Milwaukee’ campaign for a rally at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the local agency responsible for policing wage theft, to tell unscrupulous employers who steal money from workers it’s time to pay up.
“For far too long, the needs of low-wage workers have been ignored,” Rep. Moore said. “I am proud to join the ‘Raise up America’ campaign to speak out against income inequality and wage theft in Milwaukee and across our nation. As a Member of Congress, proudly representing the Milwaukee area, I will do everything in my power to ensure that these hardworking Americans are earning and receiving fair wages.”
The fastest growing jobs in our economy are also the lowest paid and, to make matters worse, lower-wage and middle-wage jobs have seen significantly bigger declines in their real wages during the recovery than higher-wage occupations, according to a report released last week by the National Employment Law Project.
A recent study by the Economic Policies Institute shows that an adult with a child in Milwaukee needs to make $50,967, or $24.50 an hour if working full time, just to make ends meet.
But many fast-food and retail workers don’t earn enough to cover basic necessities like food, clothing and rent. Many make Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which is only $15,000 a year. It’s been four years since the federal minimum wage, which also stands at $7.25, was raised.
Amere Graham, 19 and a high school graduate, spoke at the rally sharing his work experience with a McDonald’s restaurant in the city. He told the crowd that he makes minimum wage, and his duties are quite extensive. He did not complain about the amount of work, however he questioned how others doing the same job or less made more money. But his major concern was the method in which he was paid, by a debit card. It seems that many fast-food and retail businesses are now using this method of payment. If you want a physical check instead of the debit card method, you are penalized.
Debit cards charge fees for each transaction, and the fees are charge to the employee, and this is where the theft comes into play. Everyone wins, but the workers. The banks make more money, the employers get their own kickbacks and workers continue to lose.
On top of that, employers are stealing wages by compelling workers to work off the clock, denying them overtime pay.
“The American economy is big enough to work for everyone,” Rep. Ellison said. “I was proud to stand next to these brave workers today who are fighting to be heard. We must fight against illegal wage theft that keeps Americans from paying for basic needs for their families.”
Inspired by the recent national wave of low-wage worker strikes Progressive Congress is leading a cross-country tour with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus this summer to highlight the faces of income inequality. Monday’s stop in Milwaukee was one of many scheduled for the “Raise up America” campaign in the coming weeks.
“Between 1979 and 2012, after accounting for inflation, the productivity of the average American worker increased about 85 percent,” Rep. Davis said. “Over the same period, the inflation-adjusted wage of the median worker rose only about 6 percent, and the value of the minimum wage fell 21 percent. As a country, we got richer, but income inequality increased over several decades because of the growing disparity in the distribution of the national income. For low-income workers, their standard of living actually decreased.”