Wage, Benefit Boosts Urged at Rallies in 30 States

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By Rhonda Smith

Sept. 12 — Faith-based leaders and their allies in 30 states and Washington, D.C., urged politicians to back a “moral policy agenda” that calls for “living wages, union rights, racial justice, and healthcare for all.”

“We are calling on clerics, people who have been impacted by extremism and people of moral conscience to join delegations across the country to engage and challenge candidates and officeholders on the moral issues of our time,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, a minister and NAACP leader in North Carolina, said in a statement.

The Sept. 12 national event is part of a nonpartisan campaign to encourage clergy leaders and others to vocally oppose “harmful policies that disproportionately impact vulnerable communities,” organizers said.

A Moral Case for Change

Faith-based leaders are being urged to make a moral case for changes such as increasing the federal minimum wage, which currently is $7.25 per hour, to $15 even though labor economists and others have said that doing so could lead to job losses.

Barber, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in late July, founded the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina to address similar issues.

Fight for $15 campaign organizers took part in the national event, described as the “Higher Ground Moral Day of Action.” The Fight for $15 campaign, launched in late 2012 by fast-food workers in New York City, now involves a national push by employees in various industries to boost their hourly wages.

The Sept. 12 event included vigils at state capitols, from Sacramento, Calif., to Albany, N.Y., as well as in the District of Columbia’s city hall building, organizers said.

During rallies, workers, clergy leaders as well as other community organizers presented a “Moral Declaration,” which 2,500 faith-based leaders have signed, organizers said.

It calls on elected officials and political candidates to “embrace morally just policies,” including paying a minimum hourly wage of $15 and allowing workers to be represented by a union without employer interference.

Verdict Still Out on $15-Per-Hour Wage

Opinions are still mixed among labor economists and others over whether boosting the minimum wage to $15 would do more harm than good. Raising it that high could lead to job losses, some have said.

“Paying workers $15 an hour would be devastating for workers because it would cost many of them their jobs,” Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for America Rising Squared, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 12, citing an issue brief the Heritage Foundation released in August.

“As a conservative organization, we support the free market and free economy principles that allow the economy to grow on its own to create more jobs and opportunities,” Adler said. “We want people to have high wages, but not through government mandates. It should happen through the private sector and private economic growth.”

A policy that raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour “would result in many states losing hundreds of thousands of jobs and would considerably curtail employment opportunities, especially for less-skilled workers,” wrote James Sherk, the paper’s author and a research fellow in labor economics at the organization’s Center for Data Analysis.

“These findings show that the federal government should not impose a $15 minimum wage on states, and states should expect that adopting this policy would hurt many workers,” the brief said.

Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Bill Clinton and a professor of economic policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has said raising the minimum wage is a moral imperative.

In an October 2015 post on his website, Reich acknowledged that some accomplished economists are nervous about job reductions from a $15 minimum wage.

“Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington, D.C. at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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