Navigation

The US House Minimum Wage CUT Bill

In the cynical monstrosity that the rightwing US House leadership calls its "minimum wage" bill, most progressives have focused on the perversity of demanding a tax cut for Paris Hilton as the price for getting a minimum wage increase.

But progressives should be trumpeting that the bill will actually CUT wages for workers in a number of states by preempting state minimum wage laws for tipped workers. (Link and provision courtesy of the National Restaurant Association) So Paris Hilton's tax cut is going to be coming directly out of the lower wages for tipped workers in California and a number of others states.

Rick Santorum tried this gambit last year but now they've pushed it through and progressives should be highlighting the unprecedented nature of this assault on state minimum wage laws. Here's the deal:

The federal minimum wage is explicit that states and local governments are free to create higher minimum wage rates than the federal level for any and all groups of workers. While the federal minimum wage allows employers to pay a lower wage to tipped workers, a number of states have eliminated this so-called tip credit on the assumption that consumers pay tips not to subsidize low-wage employers but to actually reward service.

But the new House bill would preempt those state laws and actually cut wages for tipped workers in states like California, Oregon and Washington where tipped workers would see a lower minimum wage rate imposed compared to what they were guaranteed under state law.

This would be an unprecedented move by the federal government to preempt state minimum wage laws. Not only would it hurt tipped workers, it would set a precedent for conservatives to try to preempt all minimum wage rates higher than the federal level.

If that sounds too paranoid, consider this. after a number of cities began enacting city minimum wage laws, about a dozen southern and western states, including Florida, Louisiana and Georgia, passed legislation banning local governments from enforcing local minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage level. Backed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, these "minimum wage repeal acts" are the model for the national GOP going further and preempting state minimum wage laws, just as they recently preempted state class action laws and just as they have preemped state health care and environmental regulation.

Progressives are actually winning a range of battles at the state level and conservatives are increasingly looking to use the federal government to shut those progressive state laws down. This new minimum wage cut for tipped workers is just one more shot in that attack.

This just highlights why progressives need stronger language to highlight a progressive vision of federalism, not one of "states rights" but that promotes substantive policy innovation at the state level, where the federal government provides for MINIMUM protections of workers and consumers while encouraging states to create stronger protections.

And this rightwing minimum wage attack on state laws protecting tipped workers should be one more example of what's wrong with the rightwing hypocrisy around federalism.