Obama promises to raise minimum wage, Republicans disagree

DeadlineNews1PhotoAshleyBy Ashley Goodman | gargoyle@flagler.edu

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama promised to raise the minimum wage of federal contractors to $10.10 per hour through an executive order. While such an order will affect only 2 million employees, Obama also urged private businesses to follow his example.

Local Democrats support Obama’s gesture. Nell Toensmann, chair of the St. Johns County Democratic Party, believes that Congress has delayed raising the minimum wage for far too long.

“It’s a start, but it’s not enough. Minimum wage has not kept up with inflation,” Toensmann said.

Toensmann blames the stagnation of minimum wage partly on technologies that have eliminated many jobs.

“You can do everything on a computer. You don’t need a secretary to type. In the automotive industry, you’ve got robots building cars. You don’t need as many workers,” Toensmann said.

Rick Chapman, treasurer of the St. Johns County Democratic Party, says that workers’ rights have decreased.

“In the 1950s, Republicans and Democrats agreed that American workers need to be taken care of. The progress made by the American worker in the 50s was respected by both parties. Now, a lot of people blame unionism for a lot of problems economically in this country,” Chapman said, and he is correct if union membership figures are indicative of the trend.

Overall, union membership has dropped 20 percent since 2002. Today, only 14 private sectors belong to a union and the average American worker earns only 2 percent more than 25 years ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Less unions or not, many local Republicans are upset about Obama exercising his executive power. Sean Mulhall, chair of the St. Johns County Republican Party, said it shows Obama’s inability to work with Congress.

“He does these things, in my mind, without any reflection of the effect on the private market,” Mulhall said.

Mulhall is most disturbed by the use of executive power. “He changes laws that only Congress has the power to change under the U.S. Constitution,” Mulhall said.

Mulhall worries that a possible minimum wage raise would lead to less hiring.

“One of the things you look at whenever you hire someone is if you can afford it,” Mulhall said.

The federal contractor minimum wage raise is not set to take place until 2015 and it will apply to new contracts only. This gives contractors time to factor the raise into future bids.

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