Economy

Low-Wage Workers Confront Scott Walker, Accuse Wisconsin Of Breaking The Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

On Wednesday morning, Wisconsin Jobs Now, Wisconsin Working Families, and a group of low-wage workers in the state submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) saying that the state’s current $7.25 minimum wage isn’t a living wage and therefore violates a state statute.

That statute says, “Every wage paid or agreed to be paid by any employer to any employee…shall be not less than a living wage,” which must be enough to “permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” The state minimum wage can’t be less than that. The governor has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the wage is in compliance, but any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage isn’t enough. After that, the governor has 20 days to investigate and take action.

One such member of the public and mother of two, Britany Ferguson, shared her story of trying to live on low-wage jobs with ThinkProgress. She currently works as a housekeeper for a Marriott hotel making $9 an hour. “A perfect example” of her struggles, she said, was “when I went grocery shopping a few weeks ago. I couldn’t buy both bread and hot dogs for my kids because my check didn’t allow me to do that.” She added, “It was an eye-opener. It was humiliating.”

Perhaps worse was her six-year-old daughter’s reaction. “She was like, ‘You work mama, you should have money. Why do you work if you don’t have money?” Her daughter’s logic is what pushed her to get involved with the complaints.

Her story is just one of the 100 being submitted, which range from “people making incredibly difficult choices between keeping a roof over their heads, putting food on the table for themselves, and affording life-saving prescription drugs” to simple things like people who can’t afford back-to-school clothes and supplies for their children, said Peter Rickman of Wisconsin Jobs Now. “The complaints lay out that not only can people not live on $7.25, they can’t live on 10, 12, 13 dollars an hour.”

Ferguson, who has worked since she was 16 but has always made less than her current wage, hopes the complaints impact the governor. “I’m hoping that the complaints will almost open Govenor Walker’s eyes to what’s really going on in Wisconsin,” she said. “I’m hearing he’s working for Wisconsin, working for working families. I’m a working family and it’s not working for me.”

Wisconsin Jobs Now is also hoping that it sparks a dialogue. “We want to get this process started today by filing these complaints,” Rickman said. “We think in the next 20 days there should be a real discussion about what sort of wage level is required for people, but we’re not calling for, say, a $15 an hour wage today. We’re just saying the minimum wage is not a living wage and the governor needs to take action here and set policy in line with state law.”

Walker has stated his opposition to raising the minimum wage. It’s not clear what he’s going to do in the next 20 days, but Rickman did point to the fact that in 1995, a judge ordered the state’s governor to raise the minimum wage in order to comply with state law. “This is really on Scott Walker…to follow the law,” he said.