Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Open Letter To The Racine City Common Council On Raising The Minimum Wage

Dear City of Racine Common Council,

This evening, you will discuss and vote whether or not to place an advisory referendum on the November ballot which asks voters if they support raising the minimum wage in Wisconsin to $10.10 per hour.

The Siren understands that advisory referenda are not binding. It is merely a symbolic gesture which is not the job description of Common Council members who are charged with actually running the city.

It is a valid point, with one major flaw.

Our Governor, and his Republican controlled legislature are in opposition to raising the minimum wage even though a majority of Wisconsin residents support it. Even if we could gain the support of our state legislators (which in the case of the city of Racine, we have), our voice is not heard in Madison.

We have a minimum wage bill (SB 4) sponsored by Senator Bob Wirch and Representative Cory Mason. Thirty four other legislators signed on to it - none were Republicans. SB 4 never made it out of committee and it died.

Are we to accept that this is our fate when over 600,000 Wisconsin residents would be impacted by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?

By voting to place an advisory referendum on the November ballot, you are allowing the people of Racine to make their voice heard in Madison where our legislators failed. We have but only a few tools with which to speak to an unwilling Administration.

You are being asked to be a conduit for democratic action - which is actually your job description.

All legislation and ordinances start as an idea. They are pushed, pulled and discussed into life. Every item on your agenda started as an idea about how Racine should be governed and what will her priorities be as a city and how best can Racine be governed. You make those decisions through committee deliberations and public input.

This is not so very different.

You are not even being asked whether or not you as a person support a minimum wage increase, but to instead allow the people of the city to say so on the ballot.

The people who brought this measure before you, may not win. They are willing to take the chance that if Racine votes against raising the minimum wage, that statement may provide opponents an even greater mandate.

However, the Siren doesn't think they will lose.

You have heard from many people about what good raising the minimum wage can do in Racine. (Some of you heard from a few over zealous activists from outside Racine who lacked subtlety and finesse and were asked to stop.)

We live in a city with the highest unemployment rate in the state and the highest infant mortality rate for black babies. Our state has the greatest achievement gap for black children in the country and Wisconsin incarcerates more black men, per capita, than any other state.

How can these miserable, shameful outcomes not be connected to wages?

Every state that has raised their minimum wage has experienced faster job growth than states that have not. Wisconsin lags behind not only our Midwest neighbors - but most of the country.

What may seem to you to be a novel idea, put on the ballot for political reasons, is actually a matter of surviving or not surviving for many people in Racine.

Please, do not stand in the way.