Protestors rally for minimum wage increase

Marisa Comeau-Kerege, Arts Editor

Minimum wage workers rallied on the Capitol steps Tuesday Oct. 14, to protest Governor Walker’s and the Department of Workforce Development’s inaction on raising the minimum wage to a living wage.

The protestors, organized by Wisconsin Jobs Now and the Raise Wisconsin Coalition, assembled to raise awareness of the benefits to all if the wages were raised and to put Gov. Walker on notice that their votes would be going to the democratic candidate, Mary Burke, in the upcoming Nov. 4 gubernatorial race.

Jennifer Epps-Addison, Executive Director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and a member of the Raise Wisconsin Coalition explains why the protestors are so passionately backing Burke.

“We’re here because workers are standing up.  They’re fed up with the governor who refuses to listen to them and refuses to acknowledge the struggle families are going through all across the state,” said Epps-Addison.

“A quarter of our state’s workforce is trapped in poverty wage jobs and yet our governor does nothing to make that better, to provide economic opportunity to the hardworking people of this state.  So they are here to demand that the governor raise the minimum wage and if he refuses to listen to them, they’re here to say that they’re ready to elect a governor who will.”

The protestors made it very clear that they want the current minimum wage, referred to by many as a poverty wage, to be raised to what state law refers to as a living wage.

Peter Rickman, campaign director for the Raise Wisconsin Coalition, explains what the group defines as a living wage.

“A living wage is enough for someone who works to be able to support themselves and their family (and to) meet the basic necessities without being forced to rely on public assistance or the charity of others,” said Rickman.

“It’s the idea that a person should be able to support themselves with dignity and self-respect for doing a job.  An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

On Sept. 24, workers made over 100 complaints to the Walker office as well as the Department of Workforce Development.

According to chapter 104 of the Wisconsin State Minimum Wage Law, “The department shall, within 20 days after the filing of a verified complaint of any person setting forth that the wages paid to any employee in any occupation are not sufficient to enable the employee to maintain himself or herself under conditions consistent with his or her welfare, investigate and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the wage paid to any employee is not a living wage.”

Basically, any complaint of this nature filed that seems legitimate must be investigated and the worker that filled the complaint must be given a response as to whether or not the department found probable cause to take action in their case or not, all within twenty days.

The 20th day since those complaints were filed was Oct. 14, and no response was given.

“Today marks twenty days since workers filed complaints under our state law that should have gotten Governor Walker to raise the minimum wage to a living wage,” said Rickman.

“Our state law says that minimum wage has to be a living wage and the power is in Governor Walker’s hands to make minimum wage a living wage.  So today is the day he should have done that under Wisconsin law; so we’re here to say that since Governor Walker won’t raise the minimum wage to a living wage (and) we’re going to elect a governor who will.”

We contacted the Walker office for a comment on the protestors’ accusations, but they sent our request to the Department of Workforce Development with whom we had already sent a request.  On both accounts, no response was received.

Ceaira Tesch, a protestor and a minimum wage worker, explains how this issues pesonally affects her and her family.

“We’re having a lot of car troubles and with not being able to make it, we are just getting by on minimum wage jobs paying our bills and just making sure we have enough gas in the car,” said Tesch.  “We should be able to save up and fix our car or have the money to get us to and from work.”

Although the rally is over and no responses the offices we have contacted have been received, the workers believe they have made enough noise to make a change and affect the upcoming elections.

“Do we want a state where anybody who is willing to work hard and get up and get working can actually survive, can thrive, can build an economic security for themselves and their families?” asked Epps-Addison.

“Or do we want a state where corporate giants can rake in billions of dollars in profits, get to benefit from being campaign contributors of our elected officials and yet force their workers to struggle in poverty?  I know I want a state where everybody has an equal opportunity to earn their piece of the American dream.”