Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the Fair Minimum Wage Act – March 3, 2014

Partial transcript of the press conference Q&A with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-California) on the introduction of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016. The press conference was held on March 3, 2014:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):
It’s such a mistaken idea that’s out there that all the people that are earning minimum wage are teenagers. You know? And that they’re just doing it part-time and that kind of thing. But here’s a classic example of people who have had one occupation but because of economic circumstances find that they have to go back to work and yet they’re making the minimum wage. So it’s not just teenagers, folks. These are people that have families. People that are older that find themselves in certain situations. But they’re doing the work that keeps our country going.

To the extent that we think about this so often that a lot of these minimum wage workers they almost are invisible to the rest of society. You know, when you get that Domino’s delivered pizza to you, do you think about that driver, how much that person is making, what their family’s going through? Or the person at a fast food restaurant or the people that wait on you and you think “Well, should I give them a 15% tip or a 20% tip?” Think about those families that are out there that are making those minimum wages and what they’re going through.

Rents are going up. Food’s going up. Gasoline’s going – everything is going up. But we haven’t had a decent increase in the minimum wage. So, we’re committed to this, and we’re going to do everything possible to move this bill through…

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):
The only answer I can give you is that this does get us within over 90% of what it was in 1968, and obviously I would like it to be even higher. But we believe this is doable. We believe this is something that we actually get through. And if we get indexing, then we won’t ever go below that 90% of what it was in 1968.

Would I like to see it higher? Sure I would. But I’m just being a realist, I think, in terms of what we can do.

Rep. George Miller (D-California):
The problem is without indexing, we fall behind. So then you have the increases to try to catch you up to the current. Hopefully in the future, a future Congress if they decide that 90% is not sufficient – and it isn’t – they’ll be able to make small changes to get you to 100%.

But right now, you’ve got to make the first big steps to catch up because Congress hasn’t done anything. And so we’re taking on that part of the fight – get it, get indexing in place, and then a future Congress can make the small adjustments necessary to get people up to 100%.

You know, it’s a tough slog. We know that this is a very political issue. The forces that are going to come to bear against this are going to be huge. But we’ve been through it before. We’ve been involved in every minimum wage increase in the last 40 years, and we’re prepared to do this again and we think in fact this is going to happen in this Congress.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):
I just heard one statement by someone opposed to this on the other side say that “You know, what happens if you increase the price of labor, you get less of it.” There’s been this myth for so long that every time you raise the minimum wage, people get put out of work. There’s absolutely no empirical data to show that whatsoever. None.

In fact, just the opposite. Every time we raise the minimum wage, when we first did it when we were freshmen in the House of Representatives back in the 70’s, every time we raise the minimum wage, the economy goes up. The economy gets stronger every single time.

And so that whole myth that somehow raising the minimum wage people would be out of work is absolutely not true.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):
What’s my message to – my message is do what’s right, do what’s fair, do what’s in the best interest of our country, and that is raising the minimum wage.

There’s a lot of people in this country who’ve made a lot of money. I just saw something in the papers this morning about all the billionaires that we have in America and stuff like that. You know, okay fine, I don’t begrudge them that. But let’s not begrudge raising the minimum wage. Let’s make sure that we at least get people out of the poverty level if they’re working everyday. That’s my message to fellow Senators.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Rep. George Miller (D-California):
Well, this is – the steps that we think are necessary to try and close this gap because of the inaction. And so the goal here is and Sen. Harkin worked very hard on this is to take these few steps, catch us up and then do include indexing, as I said earlier, and a future Congress can make that decision.

You could have picked other figures. Obviously, we think this is – that this is doable in this Congress and link to indexing is a very, very significant change going into the future.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Rep. George Miller (D-California):
The Republicans for the most part don’t like this at all. [Laughter] So to get their engagement in the game – what we’ll see, I think, is they’ll be engaged in the game when the vote comes just as we saw last time when 82 House Republicans joined on voting for the minimum wage. But I would look forward to those negotiations.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Rep. George Miller (D-California):
Indexing is to make sure that the minimum wage doesn’t lose value because Congress doesn’t get back to raising it in lump sum amounts as you have to do because of the inaction. The last one we did in 2007, it took 10 years before the Congress took that action. You got to make up for that lost time. Otherwise, you’re just building off of a sub-minimum base and an unacceptable base in terms of paying people for the work they do.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):
…This is not a compromise. This is where we have to go. We need your help. We need you on the House. We need you here in the Senate lobbying for this. Do what’s right. Do what’s fair. Do what’s just. That’s $10.10 an hour minimum wage indexed in the future…

Question:
[Inaudible]

Rep. George Miller (D-California):
Because I think you see constantly people commenting on the disparities and the inequity of pay in this country, people’s assets in this country, and recognizing that there’s millions of people that go to work everyday, work their tail off, maybe go to another job, and they don’t have fair pay. And I think that this country has gotten an education over the last couple of years about disparities when they saw, you know, the financial scandals of Wall Street take down middle-class families, destroy their home, destroy their jobs, destroy their savings, destroy their pensions. People are now aware that somebody better fight for themselves, and I think you’re going to see that millions of people are going to join this battle for the minimum wage because they understand the morality of it. The simple morality of it. It’s very interesting that people got it without an explicit nine-point agenda, without five committees and four leaders, and all the rest of that that Occupy America immediately switched the conversation in this nation and the consciousness of people about the inequities that are becoming more and more prevalent in America. And I think people have a sense that they want to do something about it, and the minimum wage is, in a sense, the easiest way to start removing those disparities for some of the hardest working, lowest paid people in America today. That’s what this is about.

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