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Minimum Wage Battle Heats Up

Stacy M. Brown | 3/27/2013, 11:46 a.m.

Dems, Unions for Hike; GOP Opposes

Oji Abbott wears quite a few hats at the Oohh's and Aahh's restaurant in Northwest.

On any given day, Abbott will answer the telephone and take reservations. He will also prepare the fare at the soul food eatery, and wait and bus tables.

Although Abbot owns the restaurant, he empathizes with many food service industry workers who struggle to get by on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

"Everything has gone up, the cost of living, gas is about $5 a gallon, milk has gone up, but the minimum wage hasn't and that makes it hard for some people to keep the lights on or a roof over their heads," said Abbott, 39.

Like Abbott, Gregory Reynoso, a pizza delivery driver and a married father of a two-year-old, doesn't hesitate to talk about the need for a wage hike.

A member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Northwest, Reynosa said the current wage not only makes it difficult to feed his family, but it leaves him to wonder whether he'll ever be able to treat his wife and daughter to dinner at a nice restaurant or even a movie.

"I work hard to provide for my family, but my wages [aren't] enough to make ends meet," said Reynoso, 27. "Right now, we are just surviving. If I pay one bill, I can't pay the others," the Laurel, Md., resident said.

On Feb. 12, during his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. The last time a hike occurred, it jumped $2.10 an hour in 2009.

The president's plan has been applauded by Democrats but dismissed by Republicans.

Raising the wage would result in massive job cuts and primarily affect women and African Americans, many in the GOP have argued. Democrats and union leaders contend however, that raising the minimum wage would put more money into the hands of lower-income Americans, thereby boosting the economy.

"There have been enough credible economists who have shown that the claims that there will be job losses [if the minimum wage is raised] are not credible at all," said Jim Spellane, media director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Northwest. "The union has always stressed the importance of job security, pensions and wage increases," Spellane said.

Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), also in Northwest, said an increase is needed for workers to continue to sustain families and for the country's continued recovery from the recession.

"President Obama rightly put [raising the minimum wage] and good jobs as his top priority, and we fully support him," Trumka said. "We applaud the president for expressing support for raising the minimum wage and tying it to the cost of living."

Nineteen states already have wages above the federal minimum, including the District where the rate is currently $8.25.

Increasing the wage in D.C., and in Maryland would substantially benefit minority and other workers in the area, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank in Northwest. A study by the EPI indicated that blacks in the Washington metropolitan area represent 31 percent of those who would be affected by a minimum wage hike. Women comprise two-thirds of the minimum wage workers, according to statistics provided by the National Women's Law Center in Northwest. A woman who works full-time, year round at the federal minimum wage earns just $14,500 a year, or roughly $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.