Monday, January 22, 2007

Minimal response from workers on minimum wage issue

By Todd Morehead

The South Carolina chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) fell far from the tree on Friday with only two of its estimated 100 members gathering to rally outside Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Columbia office.

The organization is calling for Senator Graham to support the proposed federal minimum wage hike without tacking on a bill that would attach special interest tax breaks. The original bill, first introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would raise the federal minimum hourly wage for the first time in nearly a decade from $5.15 to $7.25 in three phases over the next two years. The U.S. House already passed the bill with no tax breaks attached.

Senator Graham, however, has vowed to only support the bill if it comes as part of a larger package, stating that simply raising the minimum wage would deny job opportunities for young people as small businesses-- financially strapped from paying higher wages-- wouldn’t have enough revenue left over to afford to create positions for teenagers.

“If you’re a full time worker with skills and the ability to produce, you’ll blow by the minimum wage in about sixty days,” Graham told conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher in August. “Nobody is making the minimum wage that is a full time worker with a good work ethic...”

Ideally, according to Graham, the bill would also include tax credits for tuition, would provide tax cuts for married middle class families and would do away with the current death tax, which Graham described as “socialist.”

Hector Vaca, a lead coordinator with the SC ACORN chapter, isn’t buying it.

“Over the past decade Congress has given themselves nine raises, yet the people haven’t gotten anything,” he pointed out at the Friday rally. “Working class families deserve to be paid for their hard work.”

Doubtless, the workers of South Carolina would support a hike in pay, yet they seem reticent to publicly rally in support of the bill.

“I can’t get anyone to come out,” says Jean Busby, who heads up ACORN’s Columbia office. “I think that a lot of people believe that nothing can change, that this is the way it just has to be. A lot of people are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they rally in public.”

ACORN isn’t letting the low turnout dampen their spirits, though.

“If they don’t pass the [minimum wage] bill on a federal level,” said Vaca, “we’ll push to have it passed on a state level.”


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