Debate Over Minimum Wage Increase Continues On Labor Day
OKLAHOMA CITY - On Labor Day, President Barack Obama was on the road renewing his call to raise the federal minimum wage. The issue has received opposition from Oklahoma leaders.
The minimum wage has gone up significantly over time, from $1.60 in the late sixties to currently over $7. So many say an increase is well overdue while others say that hike would come at a high cost.
"I don't want it to hurt the businesses, but I do think that the workers deserve higher," said Newcastle resident, Ashlee Standridge. "Everything has gone up, rent, gas, the cost of living, so I think that the wages definitely need to go up."
Local attorney David Slane agrees. He authored a petition to get Oklahoma City's minimum wage raised from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, just like President Obama's federal minimum wage proposal.
“We have to change the mindset and realize who really is getting minimum wage, that it's really not just these college students and high school workers. It's poor families and working poor families.”
Minimum wage workers earn about $14,000 a year, and that's before taxes. About 60 percent of all minimum wage earners in Oklahoma are women.
Slane's petition failed, but he says the fight is far from over. Though Oklahoma Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello says raising the wage will cut jobs.
"Elevating to the President's proposal, it would devastate new job creation. It would devastate small companies and it would not help the poor or the middle class," Costello said.
Slane says only 4.6 of Oklahoma workers are making minimum wage and another 36,000 make below that.
“Do you really think 4.6 percent of our workforce is going to derail the other 96 percent of us? I don't think so. They just simply want to protect business and profits and the workers are the ones paying the price," Slane said.
Costello says most Oklahoma employers already pay above minimum wage.
“Everyone wants to make more money, however, most of us understand the social contract, go get an education, get job skills, go to career tech, go someplace where you can offer the market more,” Costello said
“To have that first job, to have that habit of work, understanding that you have to provide goods and services is critically important."
Earlier this year, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill preventing Oklahoma cities from establishing a mandatory minimum wage. Slane, along with a group of local attorneys are looking into the legality of the law and plan to challenge it in court.
The state of Washington has the highest minimum wage at $9.32 per hour. The City of Seattle plans to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.