U.S. labor official listens to Minnesotan's minimum wage concerns

5:59 PM, Mar 26, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - A U.S. Department of Labor official came to Minnesota to listen to low-wage worker's laments as the effort to raise the minimum wage for workers picks up steam at both the state and federal levels.

Mary Beth Maxwell, Acting Deputy Director of Wages and Hours, joined Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, for a round-table discussion with a dozen workers. Many of the workers, for whom English is a second language or not a language they use at all, deferred to Veronica Mendez, CTUL group, as their translator.

"Many times, we have just not gone to the doctor because going to the doctor just creates more problems," said one woman, through Mendez. "At the end of the day, things just get worse."

The woman explained that her low-wage job is endangering her health.

"I am sick and I have needed to have surgery for the last three years," said the woman. "I have not gone to get it because no insurance will cover me with that condition that I have and I am not able to pay for the surgery."

Another worker sobbed as he told Maxwell, "We do not have enough. So, my wife and I have to seek support from other people."

The man said he worked seven days a week for a large retail store for eight years, but was only allowed to work 4 ½ hours a day, cutting his meager pay.

Maxwell told the man that his story was not uncommon.

"That people in this country that work so hard and play by the rules should not have to struggle so much," Maxwell said.

Both Ellison and Maxwell told the workers that it was "time" to raise the federal minimum wage. Currently, it stands at $7.25 an hour. President Barack Obama has said he would like it to rise to $9 an hour. Some Democrats, including Ellison, have endorsed a bill to raise the minimum to $10.10 an hour.

Minnesota's minimum wage is $6.15 an hour for small companies; however, bills moving through the state Legislature would raise the minimum to as high as $9.95. If passed into law, that would make Minnesota the state with the highest state-mandated minimum in the nation.

Business interests in Minnesota have generally opposed a higher minimum. J.J. Haywood, CEO of Pizza Luce, said many restaurants would raise prices and cut staff if all "tipped" employees were paid a higher minimum wage.

The Minnesota Restaurant Association said tips should be factored into the discussion of the minimum wage. The concept is that wait staff receiving higher tips should be kept at a lower minimum wage.

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