Under the new leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the 110th Congress voted yesterday to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15-an-hour to $7.25-an-hour by 2009. All House Democrats and 82 Republicans supported the legislation, which passed 315 to 116. Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) issued a statement on the new legislation, known as the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, emphasizing the importance of the bill for women and working mothers. “Today, women and minority workers are overrepresented among minimum wage workers. Too many women struggle to make ends meet throughout their working life and retirement,” Solis said. “The Fair Minimum Wage Act will give 1.4 million working mothers a pay raise.”
Congresswoman Solis also noted the inclusion of workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in the legislation. A territory of the United States that has been exempt from US labor and immigration laws, CNMI has a garment industry that is highly dependent on the cheap labor of immigrant women. The Fair Minimum Wage Act will raise the CNMI minimum wage from $3.05-an-hour to the US federal minimum wage by $0.50 increments every six months. Ms. magazine brought the plight of low-wage women workers in CNMI to the attention of readers across the nation in an investigative report, “Paradise Lost.”
The Senate must now vote on the legislation, and, if it is approved, it must be signed by President Bush.
Raising the minimum wage was one of Speaker Pelosi‘s objectives for the first 100 hours of Congress. The current federal minimum wage of $5.15 has not been raised since September 1, 1997, despite the fact that Congress has voted for its own raise seven times in the past nine years. This is the longest stagnant wage since the minimum wage was established in 1938, and, according to the Associated Press, “inflation has eroded the minimum wage’s buying power to the lowest level in about 50 years.”