This week, Republicans came out with their official position on the minimum wage in their Republican Platform 2016: “Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.”
That’s a silent but clear “no” to raising the disgracefully low federal minimum wage. But recognizing the popularity of the issue, they give a faux-nod to “state and local.” And therein lies the stunning hypocrisy.
It’d be one thing if Republican state legislatures were actually handling this issue responsibly. But too many not only remain staunchly opposed to raising the minimum wage at the state level; they’re also taking extreme measures to block cities and counties from raising their own local minimum wage.
That’s right — the party of local control is actively blocking democratically elected local officials from establishing higher local minimum wages in states such as Alabama and Missouri. Eighteen other states also prohibit local action on the minimum wage.
These preemptions of local actions have devastating consequences for people living in those cities. Take, for example, Bridget Hughes, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Bridget was a high-achieving high school student at Kansas City’s most elite public high school, and though she went on to college, she was unable to complete her education. She now finds herself working full-time at Wendy’s making a scant $8.75 per hour.
Bridget is married and her husband works as a gas station attendant. They are raising their four children as well as caring for a teenager whose mother is unable to care for her because of a drug addiction.
Not surprisingly, she and her husband find it nearly impossible to support and raise a family on the wages they earn. So Bridget has joined the Fight for $15 and is trying to make a better life for her family, particularly her children.
The duly elected City Council of Kansas City understands the plight of workers like Bridget and voted by a margin of 12-1 to raise the minimum wage within the city limits to $13 by 2020.
But the Missouri state legislature had other ideas. When they saw what Kansas City was doing to try to lift up its low-wage workers, the legislature, which by more than a two-to-one margin is populated with Republicans, passed a bill prohibiting localities from enacting their own minimum wage laws and other worker-friendly reforms such as paid sick leave.
Though Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, the Republican-controlled state legislature overrode his veto, and the matter is now working its way through the court system.
Bridget and those struggling like her aren’t seeing the kind of help they need from their Congressional delegation either. Though Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is on record supporting a higher minimum wage, the last time Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) had the opportunity to raise the federal minimum wage in 2014, he was firmly in the “no” column.
So for now, Bridget and more than 250,000 Missourians like her who are working for starvation-level wages are out of luck.
This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party Platform, which lists as its very first item a call to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, and to index the minimum wage to inflation so it can never stagnate again.
And Democratic-controlled legislatures and governors are walking the walk. California, New York and Washington, D.C. all recently raised their minimum wages to $15, and many other blue states have the nation’s highest minimum wages.
But the Grand Old Party of local control, even by the terms of its own platform, reveals the rank hypocrisy of its stated position with its actions around the country to block localities — those that supposedly know the needs of their citizens and their economies best of all — from raising the minimum wage for those who need it so desperately.
Their actions demonstrate that contrary to their platitudes about states and localities dealing with minimum wage, the low-wage workers in the 21 states with minimum wages currently stuck at the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, have virtually no realistic chance of seeing an increase anytime in the foreseeable or reasonable future.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009. It’s long past time for a raise, and only one party seems willing to deliver on that promise.
Conti is federal advocacy coordinator with the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
Read the original op-ed at The Hill.