Atlanta Workers Testify to “People’s Wage Board,” Modeled on New York
(APN) ATLANTA — An Atlanta People’s Wage Board–styled upon an official recent Wage Board in New York–heard testimony from sixteen low wage workers over the course of two hours on Wednesday, October 07, 2015.
In May 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered the empaneling of a Wage Board to investigate and make recommendations on an increase in the minimum wage in the fast food industry. It met several times and in July 2015 recommended a fifteen dollar minimum wage in the industry.
In September 2015, Gov. Cuomo announced his administration would adopt the fifteen dollar minimum wage for fast food workers, and is now pushing to expand the wage to all industries.
Now, activists in other U.S. states, including Georgia, are pushing for similar actions.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta); State Rep. Dewey McClain (D-Lawrenceville), who is President of the Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council; Prof. Fred Brooks of Georgia State University; and Pastor Frank C. Brown of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church led the hearing and, afterwards, hosted a press conference down at the Georgia State Capitol.
“I am strongly pushing for the Wage Board to recommend us fast food workers fifteen an hour, minimum, not later but now,” Tolanda Kyles, a Burger King employee, said, after discussing the difficulty of providing for her four growing kids and mother on $7.25 an hour.
The testimony came from workers in fields like fast food, grocery, child care, home health care, and government.
The Board itself has no authority to implement any policy changes; however, the Board was eager to provide a forum for workers to speak out, as well as to discuss 2016 legislation and the growing movement for “$15 and a union.”
“If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation it would be $10.52. If it had kept up with worker productivity, it actually would be $21.72. The economy has grown terrifically, but plain, average working people have been left behind,” Prof. Brooks said during opening remarks.
Workers testified about having wages withheld, managers who avoid paying overtime, challenges getting worker’s compensation, inconsistent paycheck timing, and intentional understaffing of stores.
Derrell Odon, a Kentucky Fried Chicken employee and Purple Heart recipient, spoke about wanting to provide for his son and family.
“I can’t even afford to put a roof over my child’s head with the amount of money that I make,” Odon said.
Odon makes $7.25 an hour and lives with two roommates in a one bedroom apartment, while his fiance and son live with her family.
He recently completed a 45 hour work week, hoping to be able to set aside extra money for a stroller for his son, but said that he is instead facing management changing his documented hours to avoid paying overtime.
“She told me she was going to take my five hours and put them on next week’s check, so she wouldn’t have to give me my time and a half,” Odon testified.
Four of the top five jobs projected to have the largest number of annual openings are in low wage sectors.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, these are: Customer Service Representatives; Retail Salespersons; Accountants and Auditors; Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers; and Waiters and Waitresses. These areas are projected to total over 4,500 new job openings in 2022.
“One of the scandals of low wage pay in America is that people who work full-time are on what? Public assistance. In this country, low wage workers receive 153 billion dollars in public assistance,” Sen. Fort said.
“What does that mean?… It is taxpayers who are subsidizing McDonalds, Burger King, it is taxpayers who are subsidizing low wages with Medicaid, with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrituion Assistance Program, or food stamps), with CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program),” Sen. Fort said.
Sen. Fort discussed increasing visibility around the number of companies in Georgia that have employees receiving public assistance because their jobs do not pay a living wage.
He proposed charging a fee to these companies for each employee that must be subsidized with public funds, as well as making publicly available information on employers that are benefiting from their low wage workers receiving public assistance.
Rep. McClain’s already-introduced HB 8 would increase the minimum wage to $15, and eliminate exemptions that currently exist for tipped workers, farm workers, and domestic workers. Sen. Fort plans on introducing a companion bill in the Senate.
HB 8 was assigned to the Industry and Labor Committee, but has yet to receive a hearing.
In response to a question about the prospects of pro-worker legislation moving forward, Rep. McClain spoke positively about the absolute need for this legislation, and Sen. Fort spoke about the impact of community organizing on securing wins for some of their legislative proposals.
“Regarding the prospects of the bill, you know, I am committed to not only introducing the bill, but fighting for the bill,” Sen. Fort said, citing past legislation around predatory lending that also was thought to have poor prospects.
“It is a crime that anyone nowadays makes less than $15 an hour. It is troubling that two-thirds of the workers making minimum wage are women… A living wage is a human right and we are failing workers,” Tamieka Atkins, Atlanta Chapter Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said during the hearing.