Senate minimum wage proposals hit a brick wall

Sarah Baldwin

Democrats and Republicans presented proposals for what would be the first federal minimum wage since 1996.

However, the Senate thwarted raises to the minimum wage Monday.

The Democratic proposal, led by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Mass., would have increased the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in a little over two years’ time.

The Republican plan for the minimum wage was less aggressive, with two 55 cent raises over the course of 18 months.

The proposals needed at least 60 votes from the Senate to be passed onto the House of Representatives for consideration. But both plans received less than 50 votes.

Although it may sound like a one or two dollar increase is a lot more money, Kelly Brown, junior fashion merchandising and marketing major, doesn’t think it would make that big of a difference for workers who are paid minimum wage. Brown works as a server and hostess at the Ponderosa in Kent.

“Everything else would probably go up, too,” she said.

That is the reasoning behind Sen. Voinovich’s vote for the Republican version of the bill, said spokeswoman Marcie Ridgeway.

“The Senator voted in line with inflation since the last time the minimum wage was raised,” Ridgeway said.

The Republican proposal, headed by Sen. Rick Santorum of Penn., also included additional plans to begin “flex-time,” an idea that would allow workers to have the choice to schedule their work hours over an 80-hour period, as opposed to the current 40-hour work week.

Republicans said this would give families the option to have more time together, but Democrats claim it would end the 40-hour work week and negatively impact the way in which overtime is currently handled.

According to a press release from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, the Republican plan would harm people who are currently making the minimum wage.

“The Santorum amendment would do away with the 40 hour work week by allowing employers to substitute it with an 80 hour work period, deny more than 10 million workers minimum wage, overtime pay and equal pay rights and weaken state minimum wage protections for tipped workers,” Sweeney said.

As Sweeney mentioned, another facet to the Republican-based plan would be getting rid of the minimum wage for tip-based workers. This would effect anyone whose tips all together equaled the minimum wage. So the $2.13 that servers make would not be there anymore, and Brown said this would definitely negatively impact someone who works at low traffic times at a restaurant like Ponderosa.

“The $40 you get actually helps,” Brown said.

Ryan Keating, communications director for Rep. Tim Ryan, said according to the Republican bill, if a tipped employee makes the minimum wage, then the employer would not have to pay the tipped employee.

A state may set its own minimum wages above the federal base, and some states such as Kansas and Ohio set the rates lower. However, anyone covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must be paid the federal minimum.

Contact public affairs reporter Sarah Baldwin at [email protected]