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Playing Games With Workers' Wages

An old rule of politics is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A new corrolary may be: Be wary of letting the good become the enemy of the perfect. In both Michigan and Pennsylvania, conservatives reading the polls are looking to defuse a ticking political time-bomb: the minimum wage.

For years, the federal minimum wage has been stagnant, leading to decreased purchasing power in the states. Progressives across the country have recently joined together with the minimum wage as a banner issue. Conservatives, realizing the game being played, are now moving quickly to take the issue off the table.

In Pennsylvania, the game is an interesting one. We demanded a mile, they're giving us a foot. Governor Rendell, at the urging of Pennsylvanians, has pushed for a $7.15 minimum wage. Instead, the conservative-led legislature looks to give him a $6.25 minimum wage, with an exception for 18-year-olds and possibly for new hires as well.

The game being played in Michigan is far worse than the nickel-and-diming of Pennsylvania, though. Following an organizing push by the grassroots progressive coalition Michigan Needs a Raise to boost Michigan's minimum wage to $6.85 an hour and eventually to $7.40 with a tie to inflation, conservative lawmakers decided to play hardball. They came back with a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $6.95 an hour, but to exclude the inflation adjustment. What's more, they made it clear that their bill's standard would be repealed if the coalition's initiative passed.

The conservatives in the legislature pretending to support a higher minimum wage are now saying that a vote for the fall initiative, which would represent a real long-term increase in the minimum wage, is actually a vote against workers. You may not be able to find more disingenuous leadership anywhere in America today, but when it comes to hurting workers, lies are the least of the conservative sins.

Michigan's corporate conservatives actually have a long history of abysmal behavior when it comes to wages. Corporate leaders in Michigan like Betsy DeVos have said that they believe "Many, if not most, of the economic problems in Michigan are a result of high wages and a tax and regulatory structure..." David Brandon, DeVos' comrade at Dominos, has said fighting higher wages is a number one priority because Dominos doesn't want to pay their drivers.

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