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Dear Congressman Larson: Raise the Federal Minimum Wage Now!

Back Camera

Congressman John Larson and I discuss setting up a debate in West Hartford for the 2010 Congressional election.

 

 

Dear Congressman Larson –

On Sunday, July 21, 2013, I collected about 75 signatures on a petition with the following language:

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“America must raise the federal minimum wage to $10.50 an hour as soon as possible. More than 30 million American workers make less today than in 1968, adjusted for inflation. Please join us at a town meeting during the August Congressional Recess to discuss legislation to give workers a raise.

“Thank you for listening to citizens.”

I will send the petition and signatures this week, after this column is published.

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Petitioning for support to raise the minimum wage was the easiest petitioning I have ever done. Ralph Nader promised me it would be. Ralph has asked people across the country to circulate similar petitions across the country in all congressional districts.

This conversation is long overdue. The federal minimum wage is stuck at $7.25.

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Almost everyone I approached signed my petition. I collected the 75 or so signatures in a little over two hours, while walking around Bushnell Park listening to live jazz. I stopped at sunset. If I kept going, I could have had hundreds, thousands. If I only had the time.

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The little petitioning I did represents a legitimate statistical sample showing that there is an overwhelming desire among Americans to have a conversation about economic justice.

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Other Naderites in the First Congressional District have collected several hundred petition signatures, too. How many do you need to agree to discuss economic justice issues? Most Americans understand policies made by the rich, benefitting the rich skew our economic picture.

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When someone would hesitate to sign, I would ask: “Who can live on $8.25 an hour?” That is the Connecticut minimum wage. I would watch their faces, and I could see the recognition of the issue filter across their eyes.

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The little opposition I encountered noted the Connecticut minimum wage was already $8.25 an hour, so we don’t need to raise the federal levels. As Reagan might have said, a rising tide should lift all boats. Progressives in Connecticut can help shift the tide in Mississippi and Alabama.
Others noted the futility of a Republican controlled congress, where New Deal measures are unlikely to pass. But we need to shift the dialogue in the United States towards economic equality.

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I wish I has asked those naysayers what they thought would happen if the right wing repealed the minimum wage. American corporations would pay their employees less than a dollar an hour. The USA would be Bangladesh.

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One lawyer told me she didn’t think that raising the minimum wage was as important as bringing unprotected workers into minimum wage regulations.

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She said she would sign my petition if I asked you to move the Secretary of the Department of Labor to pass regulations which would bring home care workers and domestic workers under the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Currently, nannies and home care workers are exempt from minimum wage. Why won’t the Secretary of Labor afford domestic workers the rights contained in the FLSA? The DOL is stalling these regulations. This is lousy.

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I promised her to raise this issue with you. It is another thread of the same Gordian knot of wealth concentration and policy control. As technologically proud and futuristic and modern as we Americans posture we are, we are really a barbaric, cruel society controlled by an oligarchy.

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We need more than lip service to ending poverty. Candidate Barack Obama in 2008 promised to fight for workers. He campaigned to raise the federal minimum wage in 2008. He said he would:

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“further raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing.”

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When I challenged you Congressman Larson in 2010 for your seat, at the four debates we had – and make no mistake you should be congratulated to engaging in four debates – I asked you why this minimum wage increase hadn’t happened yet. You never gave an answer.

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In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $9.00 an hour. How did Americans suddenly lose 50 cents an hour? Our labor force is the most productive in the world.

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People work 40 hours a week and can’t make ends meet. They either pick up additional jobs, or rely on food stamps and other government aid. This is as absurd as it is unjust.

Perverse incentives like this allows corporations to harm workers. Even worse is when the corporations contracting with the U.S. government pay substandard, non-living wages, as Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have documented.

Corporations get welfare when workers get welfare. Employers know their employees cannot live on minimum wage, and they can pocket the profits. Few things are more offensive than a nickel an hour raise from McDonald’s, along with a booklet telling you how to live on $1,100 a month.

This insidious corporate pillaging and piracy of labor must stop. And we cannot do it without your full support, Congressman Larson.

“The moral case for catching up with 1968 is overwhelming and supported by 70 percent of the American people,” as Mr. Nader’s summons to get Congresscritters to town meetings says.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood New Deal policies needed to protect workers from greed fundamental to human nature. Roosevelt welcomed the hatred of the bankers. What about our politicians today?

Cornel West recently supposed on Democracy Now!, Monday, July 22, 2013 (which I listened to thrice), that if Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would not be invited to the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech and March on Washington. Why?

“He would talk about drones. He would talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation,” West said.

This is the kind of conversation we need to have in one of America’s poorest cities this August. I am not so naïve as to believe that this column, these petition signatures will be enough to move you. But that doesn’t mean we won’t stop applying pressure on you until you do take up this fight.

Thank you for your time and cooperation, and we look forward to meeting with you at a time and place of your convenience. Please give us ample notice so we can adequately prepare.

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