Missouri Lawmakers Just Took Raises Away from Minimum Wage Workers

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Bettie Douglas was about to start her long walk to the bus to go to work on Monday morning when a man from the water company showed up at her house in St. Louis, Missouri. He was there to cut off her service.

That news threw her into a tailspin. “No one should have to live like this,” she sobbed. She tries to show up to her fast food job with a smile, as her employer asks, but she was in tears during her entire morning commute thinking about how she was going to deal with potentially losing her water and then having to pay $50 to reconnect it — not to mention paying off what the water company says she owes.

Things were supposed to be a little easier for her by now. In 2015, St. Louis passed a minimum wage increase that would have mandated that workers be paid at least $9 an hour that year, $10 an hour this year, and $11 by next year. But it passed on the very same day that the state’s preemption law, which blocks cities and localities from increasing their own wages, took effect. After a consortium of business groups sued to block the increase, it was under an injunction until a judge in February ruled in favor of the increase. It immediately took effect after the injunction was lifted.

But while the $10 minimum wage is technically in effect now, Douglas says she still hasn’t seen any extra money in her paycheck. She still makes just $7.90 an hour, even after a decade of working at the same place.

“This is how much I really need this,” she said, thinking about her potential water shutoff. “I need that ten dollars so I can pay my bills.”

But on Friday, prospects of her ever getting the raise she so desperately needs dimmed further. Republicans in the state senate pushed through a bill in the last few hours of the session that blocks the St. Louis minimum wage increase. If Gov. Eric Greitens (R) signs it, the city’s minimum wage will revert it back to the state’s floor of $7.70 an hour in August. The governor couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

“They keep playing with it and taking it back,” Douglas said of the legislature’s vote. “Every day I’m working hard, and it’s so hard to pay my bills. Then they tell us that we don’t deserve a raise.”

Not everyone in the state legislature was on board with blocking the pay increase. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D) was one of the lawmakers who staged a two-hour filibuster against the legislation when it was first considered on Wednesday. “It was the right thing to do,” she said. “I don’t know anyone in the St. Louis area who can live off of $7.70 an hour… It’s just inhumane.”

But Democrats weren’t able to block it again when it was reconsidered on Friday. Republican lawmakers brought it up hours before the end of the session and used a maneuver called a previous question that allowed them to push it through without any chance to filibuster. “They basically forced that bill down our throats without any debate, any conversation,” Nasheed said.

“They literally took money out of the pockets of individuals,” she added, given that the minimum wage increase has now gone into effect. “They cut people’s pay.” Republicans in favor of preemption argued that it would be harmful to have different minimum wages in different parts of the state. But Nasheed doesn’t buy that argument, given that none of them took her up on her bill to increase the entire state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour.

Douglas has made countless sacrifices to try to make ends meet on her current pay of $7.90 while raising two sons. “You can’t pay bills, you can’t afford food, you can’t afford anything,” she said. “Every time I turn around, the water bill is going up, the gas bill is going up, the electric bill is going up.” She doesn’t have a car, instead walking seven blocks to take the bus to work every day. The 59-year-old hasn’t even been to the doctor in 16 years because she can’t afford health insurance.

“I don’t even know what we’re going to eat this evening, to be honest,” she said. She calculated that by Thursday she wouldn’t have money for bus fare anymore and would have to find another way to get to work.

“All I want to do is live a comfortable life and pay my bills,” she said. “That’s all I’m asking. Is that too much?”

She joined the Fight for 15 movement and for three years has been fighting to get wages increased to at least $15 an hour. But on Monday, she was feeling deflated. “It’s been years, years and years of this. You just get tired,” she said. “I’m so tired of fighting, fighting for trying to pay my bills.”

“I don’t want anybody to give me anything. I have no problem working for it,” she added. “But give me what I deserve. Don’t work me and treat me like I’m nothing.”

If Douglas is feeling weary, Nasheed is fired up. “What they’re about to see is not only will the city raise the wage, but the whole state of Missouri’s wages will increase,” she said.

She plans to begin a petition to put a minimum wage increase on the next ballot that goes in front of voters. She’s sure voters will approve it. “I’m going to work extremely hard to make that a reality, to make sure that individuals receive a livable wage,” she said. “We’re going to take this fight to the people.”

***

Reposted from Think Progress.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media. Follow her on Twitter @brycecovert

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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