Politicians Get to Vote on Their Own Raises…

Cleveland Free Times - October 19, 2005
   

Cleveland Free Times

by Harriet Tramer

Recently retired Cleveland public school teacher Michael Charney has a new lesson for young people: activism works.

Charney wants to recruit young adults to circulating petitions to place a constitutional amendment raising the Ohio minimum wage to $6.85 on the November 2006 ballot. That’s $1.70 higher than the federal minimum wage, and $2.60 more than Ohio firms not engaged in interstate commerce must pay.

At least 1,500 people will circulate petitions at the polls this November 8. Then, Let Justice Roll, a coalition of religious groups organized around raising the minimum wage as a moral issue, will be collecting signatures during Martin Luther King Day celebrations next January, Charney said. At that point, the campaign will raise funds to develop a long-term field operation.

A coalition called Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage already includes the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), hunger centers, homeless organizations, the African-American Women’s Agenda and churches.

State Senator C.J. Prentiss, Charney’s wife, presented the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee and got a hearing. But when proponents of the measure testified, the room became conspicuously empty. That reinforced her thinking that she would have to go directly to the voters.

“Our polling came back positive, indicating that the public was in favor of raising the minimum wage,” Prentiss says.

“Out of the Basement: Who Would Benefit from a Minimum Wage Increase in Ohio?,” a brief from Policy Matters Ohio, states that 70 percent of the workers who would be impacted are 20 years or older, and 37 percent are their families’ sole support. They also note that when inflation is taken into account, the purchasing power of today’s minimum wage is at a 50-year low.

“The vast majority of the people who earn the minimum wage are in service sector positions that would be difficult to move; for example, home health care workers,” says brief co-author Amy Hanauer. “And when people are paid less, they have less reliable transportation, less reliable child care and less reliable housing … So, even the workers who want to make their best effort if they are paid less are more likely to be absent or be late, be overtired, or in other ways less productive than they would be if they were paid more.”

Supporters will need 322,000 signatures to place the amendment on the ballot. Then they’ll have to make sure it passes.

“People are more likely to turn out and vote when something directly effects them,” Charney says. “So, the low voter turnout in other elections might not be an indication of what will happen in this case.”

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