As Louisiana’s legislative sessions kicks off this week, four lawmakers are pushing for the state to enact its first-ever minimum wage law.
The four bills set different targets and timelines for the wage hike. The most gradual would bring Louisiana’s wage floor up to $9 an hour in 2016, and the most aggressive would raise it to $10.10 an hour by the middle of next year. Currently, employers in the state are bound only by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour because Louisiana does not have a minimum wage law of its own.
If the $10.10 bill succeeds, it would restore the buying power that Louisiana’s worst-paid workers have lost to inflation and stagnant federal wage laws over the past 40 years. Despite a trio of modest increases under President Bush, the federal minimum wage is worth less now than in 1968. If a $10.10 wage floor were adopted nationwide — something six out of 10 small business owners want, according to a recent poll — it would lift almost 5 million people out of poverty and reduce the strain on overtaxed federal safety net programs by tens of billions of dollars.
The spread of minimum wage campaigns to conservative Louisiana illustrates just how broad worker activist efforts have become. Fast food and other low-wage workers walked out on strike after strike in 2013, fighting intimidation from managers and applying pressure for change all around the country. Dozens of states are slated to consider minimum wage hikes in 2014 as congressional conservatives refuse to answer calls for a higher minimum wage from President Obama and their progressive colleagues.
That momentum is no guarantee of a positive legislative outcome for workers, of course. But one Louisiana Democrat struck an upbeat tone about the slate of wage bills his colleagues are introducing in the new session. After Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued “the lightest administration agenda of his six years in office” earlier this week, according to the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, the leader of the House Democrats suggested there would be more room than usual for legislators’ own ideas. “Any time you have a vacuum you are going to have forces that move in to fill that vacuum,” Rep. John Bel Edwards told the paper.
Beside the minimum wage bills, Louisiana reformers have also proposed a crackdown on the state’s payday lenders.