Thursday night I met with a man named Roshi at a local coffee house. I had called him the night before after finding a flyer about the Milwaukee County Board passage of a new living wage law covering agencies contracting with Milwaukee County. The law requires companies to pay workers at least 100% above the federal poverty line. Indexed to inflation, it will ensure that wages don’t fall behind. However, legally companies aren’t required to begin paying these wages until their present contracts expire. It has the potential to raise wages for hundreds of workers, like the guards at Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. Does it seem reasonable that the workers who handle the most stressful situations where consumers are struggling are paid the least? And despite all the talk about how the county respects and values peer support specialists does it make sense that those workers are paid so horribly?
Paying fair wages to people at the bottom of the economic ladder makes perfect sense. Would you want to be served by a restaurant worker make less than $3 per hour and struggling to pay utilities or one making $15 per hour plus tips and enjoying health insurance? Workers at the bottom spend their wages on the essentials unlike the well off who recently had their taxes lowered by Asshole Scott Walker. You can buy prom dresses, pay the rent, change the tires on the car and feel that you work is valued by your employer when you earn a fair wage. And I don’t listen to any of that quibbling about how fair wages for workers will somehow drive up prices. If that was really the case, then the place to start reducing wages would be at the top where one CEO earns more than the wages of hundreds of his or her employees.
It’s time for a fair Wisconsin to recognize the value of work and make work pay a living wage. Now, let’s implement the Milwaukee County law.