GOP attack on minimum wage denounced

By Tim Wheeler, in People's Weekly World,
14 June, 1997

NEW YORK - In a full-page New York Times ad headlined, "They're chomping at the minimum wage again," the AFL-CIO and 57 other organizations warned that Republican leaders are scheming to deny workfare recipients protection under the minimum wage law.

The ad was in reaction to an announcement by the House GOP majority leadership June 4th that they will push through legislation to override a ruling by President Clinton that state governments must pay welfare recipients the minimum wage.

It is a hot issue because several million welfare recipients will be forced to work for their benefits because of the welfare termination bill passed by Congress last August and signed by Clinton. Judge Jane S. Solomon of the New York State Supreme Court went even further, ruling May 12 in a lawsuit brought by the Welfare Law Center that workfare workers must be paid the prevailing wage or the minimum wage "whichever is higher."

The Times ad states that the federal minimum wage reflects the belief "that all people who work are entitled to a reasonable wage. It's there to prevent employers from driving wages down by pitting one group of workers against another. And its there to give millions of working poor a chance to support their families and contribute to their communities."

The ad charges that reactionary lawmakers are "proposing to chomp away at our wage floor by creating different classes of workers - some who are entitled to the minimum wage and some who are not." The ad points out that these lawmakers also seek to deny workfare recipients other basic employment rights such as protection against job discrimination, the right to organize, job safety, and protections against sexual harassment.

The ad continues: "If they succeed, they will create a perverse incentive to fire workers who earn low wages and replace them with others who are paid even less." It would "destroy any possibility that welfare reform can reduce dependency on welfare by leading people into real jobs with real wages."

Other signers of the ad include the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph Institute, ACORN, the American Friends Service Committee, Business & Professional Women, USA, Bread for the World, Catholic Charities USA, Coalition of Labor Union Women, United Church of Christ Office for Church and Society, United Hebrew Trades Division of the Jewish Labor Committee and dozens more.

The GOP majority leadership also announced that they will not restore Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other federal benefits to legal immigrants as explicitly promised in the language of the "balanced budget" deal unveiled last month by Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss).

Legal immigrants the overwhelming majority of whom are taxpayers lost those benefits in the welfare termination bill signed by President Clinton Aug. 22, 1996. There was such widespread indignation that Clinton promised to lead a drive to restore the benefits.

In fact, the budget agreement worked out behind closed doors would have restored only $9.9 billion of the $23.7 billion in benefit cuts for legal immigrants. But even that was too much for Rep. Clay E Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) who denounced the GOP-Clinton deal as a "pension plan for third-world countries."

Under the plan announced by Shaw, 100,000 severely disabled legal immigrants would continue to be denied SSI benefits. There has been a wave of suicides in the ranks of legal immigrants across the country since the benefits were cut off.

Shaw also stated that under the GOP's plan welfare recipients "shall not be considered employees for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act or any other federal law" when they are forced to work for their welfare checks. The minimum wage, now $4.75 an hour and rising to $5.15 on Sept. 1, is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which also contains the 40 hour statutory workweek.

Shaw is carrying out the agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which is circulating a statement listing "huge disincentives to hiring even well-qualified welfare recipients."

The "disincentives" it cites are the FLSA, the Davis-Bacon Prevailing Wage Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1964, and 1991, Age Discrimination Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act. It makes clear that the GOP assault on the minimum wage is the opening shot for a wholesale drive to destroy all laws that protect workers.

The ad concludes, "Can America afford to pay workfare participants the minimum wage? We can't afford not to. America can't stand more erosion of workers' living standards - especially for those in the lowest wage jobs who are already hurting the most. Stop the new attack on the minimum wage. Call your representatives in Congress and tell them that American voters support the minimum wage - for all workers." The number for the Capitol is (202) 224- 3121.

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