Monday, June 13, 2016

A Republican Bill To Impose A $4.25 Minimum Wage On Puerto Rico Just Passed


Thursday the House passed, HR 5279, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, 297-127. All but two dozen Democrats reluctantly voted for it, allowing it to pass in the face of opposition from 103 rabid right-wing Republicans who were prepared to let Puerto Rico descend into chaos and misery. The Democrats were reluctant for several reasons but one in particular was hard to countenance; allowing for a $4.25 minimum wage. Norma Torres (D-CA) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) offered an amendment to strike the part of the bill promulgating what amounts to slave labor of the island, It failed 196-225, every single Democrat voting for it but only 15 Republicans brave enough to stand up to the ugly anti-worker jihad that unites Republicans across all wings of their party.

Mario Diaz-Balart tries selling himself as a "friend of labor" and, indeed, he has been endorsed by a handful of conservative-leaning unions. But he refused to join fellow Miami-Dade Republican colleague Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in opposing this outrageous demand for a $4.25 minimum wage. Alina Valdes, the progressive Democrat opposing him in November siad "It should come as no surprise that Mario Diaz-Balart voted for this bill to suppress the wages of Latinos, our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, American citizens with rights as such, as a condition for bankruptcy protection. We all know who and what this bankruptcy protects... the special interests and the wealthy who have continued to profit on the backs of the poor and working people at any cost. These are the very same workers who labor daily to make products and provide services that other people need and want. Yet Diaz-Balart thinks it is fine to have them earn less to continue to provide the labor these wealthy, corrupt 'job creators' think will protect their interests. We all know the real 'job creators' are the working people who buy the products they produce and who now would have less in their pockets to spend.

"When Henry Ford started making cars on assembly lines," she continued, "he understood that in order for him to profit, he would have to increase the wages of his workers so they could afford to buy his product. The wealthy and well-connected need to suck it up after years of corruption and abuse and pay their workers a living wage and then watch the economy improve.  However, they seem to believe that the failed principles of trickle-down economics will work this time to make them more profitable while hurting the very workers they need to make and buy their products. Just invest in a politician and watch what happens. Diaz-Balart is just one of many examples of corrupt public servants who continue to profit from this principle. After all, he has been selling his own people out for years by maintaining a failed policy, the Cuban embargo, in order to line his pockets and that of his investors. Why should we expect a different outcome now from him?"

We rarely quote large chunks of the Congressional Record here at DWT but I want you to read some of what Torres and Grayson had to say about this on the floor of the House before the vote was taken. Torres kicked off the fight: "[T]he bill, as it is currently written, allows the minimum wage for workers 25 years and under to be lowered to abysmal $4.25 for 4 years for as long as the oversight board is in place. It also fails to specify whether this reduction is limited to one 4-year period or if the request can be made over and over again, essentially keeping the lower wage indefinitely. My amendment would strip this provision from the bill. In today's dollars, American workers haven't had a minimum wage this low since the 1940s. The young men and women of Puerto Rico are American citizens, and they don't deserve to be treated like second-class workers. These aren't high school students with summer jobs. They are young people setting off on their careers, many of them struggling to pay off student loan debt and become self-sufficient. Lowering the wage only adds insult to injury and sends the wrong statement about whether we value Puerto Ricans as equal Americans. The island is already experiencing a mass exodus of young people. Lowering wages will only make more young people want to leave, having a detrimental impact on Puerto Rico's current and future workforce, its tax base, and its ability to pay off its debt, ultimately digging them into a deeper hole. If we want to help Puerto Rico overcome this current crisis, we need to make sure the island is a place where young people can see a future for themselves, start a family, and work to grow a business, not a place that devalues their work and their contributions. The minimum wage provision in this bill is bad for these young workers and is bad for Puerto Rico."

Grayson closed the argument for the amendment:
[W]e are talking about a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour. That is less than $700 per month. Tell me how anybody can survive anywhere on the island of Puerto Rico on less than $700 a month. It simply isn't possible. The cost of living in San Juan is no lower than it is in Orlando, or much of the mainland for that matter. I don't know where you can even find a one-bedroom apartment for $700 a month that would be worth living in. I don't know how you can pay for lunch and dinner and breakfast for $700 a month. I don't know how you can find health coverage for $700 a month. I don't know how you can find transportation to get to that job for $700 a month. I just don't get it. Any one of these things would be enough to break the budget and put you into bankruptcy if you are only making $700 a month, and that is before you even have to pay taxes. What we are doing is we are taking a Spanish-speaking population, 3.5 million of them, and we are condemning them to low wages to the point where 45-year-old men will lose their jobs to 20-year-old sons because the 20-year-old sons are forced to work for only $4.25.

This is the lesson that we are teaching those young men and women who we are supposedly trying to help. The lesson is this: hop on an airplane from San Juan to my district in Orlando for $168, and you can get a 70 percent increase in your wages because that is what the difference is already under current law between what you are talking about, a $4.25 hourly wage and $7.25 that you can earn legally-- it is actually more than that under State law-- in Orlando. That is not teaching people how to work. It is teaching people to disrespect work.
Grayson also informed his supporters in Florida about what the GOP House was up to, explaining in an e-mail that they had "passed a bill this week allowing a $4.25 minimum wage. But only because they couldn’t get away with a $0.25 minimum wage, like the one in Vietnam. Maybe next week... As part of the ransom for allowing the possibility-- the mere possibility-- of a restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt, the Republicans insisted on a provision that authorizes a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour in Puerto Rico. They called this their 'economic development plan.' Because if they called it their 'indentured servitude plan,' that would make it a little too... obvious." Grayson's likely opponent in the Senate election in November, anti-worker extremist Ron DeSantis, voted against the overall bill, but, of course, loved the $4.25 minimum wage part of the bill, so took the opportunity to vote against Grayson's and Torres' amendment. Everyone is eager to see what Rubio does in the Senate when it comes up there.

Grayson explained that the GOP proposal isn't serious because it requires that its victims "survive on less than $700 a month... In San Juan, where the cost of living is no lower than many places on mainland-- in fact, often higher, because of energy and fuel costs-- maybe you could find a 1BR apartment for that kind of money-- but you couldn’t eat. Maybe you could eat-- if you lived in your car. Maybe you could live in your car, and even get to work in that car-- until the transmission broke. And what about healthcare? What about utilities? What about clothing? What about taxes?
Think about it. The boss will lay off a 45-year-old father ($7.25 per hour) and replace him with a 20-year-old son ($4.25 per hour), saving three dollars an hour in the process.

Here’s something else to think about. If that 20-year-old can scrape together $168, he can hop on a flight from San Juan to Orlando, and get a 70% raise. Further depopulating the island, and further wrecking its economy.

And for what? What does a person learn from working full-time for less than $700 a month, with no benefits, with no holidays, with no sick leave? Full-time work, without even the possibility of self-sufficiency? What does that inculcate--a respect for work, or a contempt for it?

I win a lot of votes (13 in the past month), but I lost that one. At least I tried, though-- unlike some of my slack-jawed, lobbyist-sedated, PAC-fed, “I’ve-got-mine-now-you-get-yours” colleagues.

There is a war. One side wants an America of cheap labor and debt slavery. The other side wants justice, equality, compassion and peace.
Among the very worst of Grayson's "slack-jawed, lobbyist-sedated, PAC-fed, 'I’ve-got-mine-now-you-get-yours' colleagues" in the House is Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who represents the Austin-San Antonio corridor. This year, progressive Bernie-supporter Tom Wakely, beat a self-described conservative Democrat in the primary and will go up against the newly vulnerable Smith in November, although the DCCC has adamantly refused to help Wakely-- or even take his phone calls. (Thanks, Nancy Pelosi.) We asked Wakely what he thought of Smith's key role in denying assistance to Puerto Rico and in pushing for the $4.25 minimum wage. This is what he told us yesterday:

I can't for the life of me rationalize Lamar Smith's desire to essentially stick it to the people of Puerto Rico. $4.25 an hour is such an insignificant amount of money. It's less than a starvation wage, as we're already seeing plenty of folks struggle at the current federal minimum. Keeping with standard overtime rules, under this provision overtime wages would be decreased to $6.38! Since younger workers have begun to leave Puerto Rico, the country's population is aging and it's increasingly poorer each year. These measures would essentially drive any remaining able bodied workers out of their homes and to the mainland. How would a $4.25 minimum wage ease the strain on Puerto Rico's social services? It certainly makes sense that the man who's been wrong for Texas for the last 29 years is terrifyingly wrong for the people of Puerto Rico.
I suppose when Ryan tears himself up about endorsing the racist Trump by rationalizing how Trump would sign off on the GOP's vicious agenda, this in the kind of thing he has in mind. Many Republicans would like to eliminate a minimum wage altogether-- including Trump and Ryan (the ties that bind)-- but short of that... lowering it to slave labor conditions is near and dear to their ((hearts)). Please consider helping to elect Alina Valdes and Tom Wakely to the House and Alan Grayson to the Senate, people who won't let Ryan and Trump-- and Diaz-Balart, Lamar Smith, and Rubio or DeSantis or whichever clown the GOP runs-- continue to get away with it. We've had enough of a slack-jawed, lobbyist-sedated, PAC-fed Congress.
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At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It just makes me so angry that when no one is looking they get away passing disgraceful bills like this. >:-(

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet, just last November, Donald Drumpf was taken to task for daring to suggest that American wages are too high:

"Donald Trump kicked off the fourth GOP debate by boldly proclaiming that “wages [are] too high.”....Yet, Trump’s position is far outside even Republican mainstream thinking on the topic....Republicans who espouse this view aren’t arguing for lower wages."


Not anymore, it appears. The GOP has caught up with their nominee for President.


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