Building Trades Executive Board Endorses $15 per Hour Minimum Wage for All Workers

October 22, 2015 - The Executive Board of the State Building and Construction Trades Council has voted to raise the minimum wage in California for all workers to $15 per hour, with no exceptions.

We have taken this position at this time because of the circulation of ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage aimed for the November 2016 election, along with local initiatives in various cities throughout California, and this vote removes any confusion about where the Building Trades stands on this issue.

We have also submitted to media outlets an opinion essay by SBCTC President Robbie Hunter, explaining the reasons for that position. That essay follows immediately below. 

California’s Minimum Wage Should be $15/hour for All Workers, No Exceptions
By Robbie Hunter
President, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California

It is not complicated at all. It is very simple, in fact.

People who don’t have discretionary spending money don’t spend any money, which stagnates the economy and harms everyone else in the pocketbook as well. But if those same people are able to earn more money, they have more to spend, and so they spend it on an array of goods and services. That grows the economy, creating a ripple effect that ultimately benefits everyone.

As former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich opined recently, “A higher minimum (wage) puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.” Reich noted that during his term, the Clinton administration raised the minimum wage in the face of predictions of huge job losses. “In fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history.”

That’s why it is a problem for all of us that the minimum wage in the United States, and even here in forward looking California, has lagged behind the cost of inflation for decades. Adjusted for inflation, California’s $1.65 hourly minimum wage in 1968 is worth more than $11 in today’s economy. But our actual minimum wage today is only $9, increasing to $10 on January 1, 2016, well below its value of nearly a half century ago.

Conservatives have long argued that raising minimum wage would result in the elimination of those low-wage jobs. But economists studying minimum wage effects have found broad benefits from minimum wage hikes. In the 1990s, New Jersey increased its minimum wage and neighboring Pennsylvania did not. Princeton University economists found that after its minimum wage hike, New Jersey’s economy not only suffered no damage, it outgrew Pennsylvania’s.

Citing that study, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, “There’s just no evidence that raising the minimum wage costs jobs.” Why? Krugman explained, “The market for labor isn’t like the market for, say, wheat, because workers are people. And because they’re people there are important benefits, even to the employer, from paying them more: better morale, lower turnover, increased productivity. These benefits largely offset the direct effect of higher labor costs, so that raising the minimum wage needn’t cost jobs at all.”

Whenever changes have been proposed to benefit working people—child labor laws, workplace safety regulations, the 40-hour week—corporate interests predicted that businesses would collapse and jobs disappear. But we enacted those standards anyway because that was simply the right thing to do.

Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do now because it is simply impossible for a single mother to provide for her family, or even a single person living alone, a quality of life other than desperate, abject poverty with the current minimum wage.  A $15/hour minimum wage would at least be a worthy move in the right direction.

That means $15/hour for everyone, with no exceptions. As California considers proposals for a better minimum wage, business and special interest groups are devising schemes to carve out exemptions for themselves, to exempt their workers from minimum wage such as workers who earn tips.

Those exemptions are unacceptable. Every working person, at every job, in every part of California, has a right to a decent living wage. No exceptions.

Or as Secretary Reich concluded: “At a time in our history when 95 percent of all economic gains are going to the top one percent, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour isn’t just smart economics and good politics. It’s also the morally right thing to do.”

Therefore, the Executive Board of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, representing 400,000 skilled construction workers and 22 regional councils, has voted to support raising California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, with no exceptions.


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