Minimum wage hike waits in the wings
Democrats vow to keep pushing for a minimum wage increase, even though their latest attempt failed when Senate Republicans pulled a bill to curb class-action lawsuits rather than allow unrelated amendments.
"We're committed to looking at the next vehicle that will come down on the Senate floor," says Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Otherwise, he says, "the ultimate decision-making" on the minimum wage "may have to be the election."
Business groups oppose Kennedy's effort to increase the minimum wage from the current $5.15 an hour to $7 an hour. They say it would raise labor costs and discourage business owners from hiring new workers.
"That translates into reduced earnings, lower wages and benefits for other employees, and/or fewer resources to expand the business," says Karen Kerrigan, who chairs the Small Business Survival Committee.
Senate Republicans are prepared to counter Kennedy with an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $6.25 an hour, but Kerrigan says her organization will oppose that hike as well.
Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., questions why Republicans even brought up the class-action bill, which would move large lawsuits to federal courts and limit settlements that benefit attorneys more than the individuals they represent.
She says plenty of her constituents ask her for a minimum wage increase, but no one has come up to her and asked for class-action reform -- "maybe a couple of lobbyists in their Gucci suits have done it, but not real people."
A real person, however, did urge class-action reform at a separate Senate press conference.
Marty Preston of Wisconsin Dells, Wis., says her participation in a class-action lawsuit against Bank of Boston ended up costing her $91 when money was deducted from her escrow account to pay legal fees.
"I got really pissed off," she says.
This salty language, coming a week or so after Vice President Dick Cheney's use of the "F" word on the Senate floor, prompted some advice from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
"You've got to be careful about what you say in the Senate these days," Carper told Preston. "But if it makes you feel better..."
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