Last week, the North Carolina House voted 72 to 43 to boost the state's minimum wage by $1. The Senate had already voted for a dollar hike in its budget, and Gov. Mike Easley -- who originally supported only an 85 cent increase -- is now backing the full dollar raise for over 100,000 workers.
Barbara Zelter and Jason Jenkins of the N.C. Council of Churches, which was a key leader in the wage campaign, shared via email an interesting story. Rep. Carolyn Justice, one of three Republicans to switch from "no" to "yes" on the final reading, was asked why did she change her mind?
She said she saw that her bishop had signed onto a letter the Council had put out from 30 top religious leaders in the state, urging the General Assembly to raise the minimum wage. Her bishop's signature swayed her vote; she even wrote a thank-you note to him.
The Tennessee Senate found no such moral calling to help low-wage workers, however, as an editorial in today's Tennessean observes:
The state Senate reared back and delivered a firm slap in the face to Tennessee workers by refusing to pass a new minimum wage standard this year. [...]
The House passed the increase 52-43. But problems arose in the Senate, where a series of amendments and procedural moves killed the bill. The Senate voted 17-12 to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee, which ultimately doomed the measure. The bill was even amended in the Senate so it had no state enforcement provision. Senators saw fit to apply it only to people who are U.S. citizens or legally working in the state, a backhanded way of getting anti-immigration fever into the proposal. In short, as the bill was debated, every imaginable problem was lobbed into the discussion. Excuses were invented, and the issue was punted at every turn.
As for Louisiana, the news headlines blare that "Louisiana Senate approves $1 minimum wage hike." But the devil is in the details:
Senators approved a bill by Sen. Charles ''C.D.'' Jones that would increase the state's minimum wage to $6.15, but only after the measure was watered down with a loophole allowing employers to wait a year before paying that wage to new hires. The amended bill also exempts local governments and small businesses that have 25 or fewer workers.
It now moves to the House, where a similar House bill was diluted in committee so that it would only affect a certain class of state employees.
Is this really an advance?