The legislative push for a higher federal minimum wage may soon heat up again with a little help from President Obama.
The president is said to be in favor of a law that would raise the wage to $10.10 per hour. While Obama has still not publicly announced his support—not even in an economic address he delivered on Friday—an administration official told the New York Times that the White House is fully behind the 2013 Fair Minimum Wage Act.
The law, which was introduced in both the House and the Senate back in March, would raise the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour over the course of the next two years. After that, the bill calls for an automatic hike to the minimum wage each year, proportional to the rise in the Consumer Price Index.
The proposed law would also raise the base wage for tipped employees to 70% of the wage for non-tipped workers. Currently, the federally mandated base minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13, provided that they make at least $7.25 per hour when tips are factored in. Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the restaurant workers' group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) said the president's support for a tipped minimum wage hike was "truly historic."
"A more stable base income for tipped workers, as supported by President Obama today, would allow these workers increased economic security, access to healthy food, and the ability to put food on their own families' tables," she said in a statement.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act proposes a higher minimum wage than the $9.00 which President Obama originally suggested in his 2013 State of the Union. The president's new position may set the stage for another legislative fight after months of inaction. While the White House, and particularly the Labor Department, have occasionally made noises about their desire for a higher minimum wage, the last major action was a failed attempt at passing the $10.10 wage hike through the House back in March. Republicans unanimously defeated the measure, which was added as an amendment to a jobs-training bill.
This time around, is unclear whether the Fair Minimum Wage Act can overcome unified Republican opposition, even—perhaps especially—with President' Obama's support. If Republicans don't kill the bill outright, they may at least bargain the wage increase back down to the president's original bid of $9, or lower.
Even $10.10 per hour may not satisfy workers and activists who have been organizing around the issue of poverty wages. Over the past year, fast food workers across the country have gone on strike and demanded a base wage of at least $15 per hour. Striking Walmart employees want the world's largest private employer to pay its workers at least $25,000 annually, thousands more than a full-time worker making $10.10 per hour would earn.
While prospects of the federal level may still be dim, pro-wage hike activists have made some significant headway on the state and local level. Back in September, the California legislature hiked the state's minimum wage up to $10. More recently, on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters approved a referendum to raise the state's minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, overcoming Gov. Chris Christie's opposition. On the same day, voters in the town of SeaTac, Wash., voted to make the minimum wage $15 per hour.