WASHINGTON: Union activist Terrance Wise recalls being laughed at when he began pushing for a national $15 per hour minimum wage almost a decade ago. Nearly a year into the pandemic, the idea isn’t so funny.
The coronavirus has renewed focus on challenges facing hourly employees who have continued working in grocery stores, gas stations and other in-person locations even as much of the workforce has shifted to virtual environments. President Joe Biden has responded by including a provision in the massive pandemic relief bill that would more than double the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15 per hour.
But the effort is facing an unexpected roadblock: Biden himself. The president has seemingly undermined the push to raise the minimum wage by acknowledging its dim prospects in Congress, where it faces political opposition and procedural hurdles.
That’s frustrating to activists like Wise, who worry their victory is being snatched away at the last minute despite an administration that’s otherwise an outspoken ally.
To have it this close on the doorstep, they need to get it done, said Wise, a 41-year-old department manager at a McDonald’s in Kansas City and a national leader of Fight for 15, an organized labor movement. “They need to feel the pressure.
The minimum wage debate highlights one of the central tensions emerging in the early days of Biden’s presidency. He won the White House with pledges to respond to the pandemic with a barrage of liberal policy proposals. But as a 36-year veteran of the Senate, Biden is particularly attuned to the political dynamics on Capitol Hill and can be blunt in his assessments.
“I dont think it’s going to survive, Biden recently told CBS News, referring to the minimum wage hike.
There’s a certain political realism in Biden’s remark.
With the Senate evenly divided, the proposal doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to make it to the floor on its own. Democrats could use an arcane budgetary procedure that would attach the minimum wage to the pandemic response bill and allow it to pass with a simple majority vote.
But even that’s not easy. Some moderate Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, have expressed either outright opposition to the hike or said it shouldn’t be included in the pandemic legislation.