An Obama administration representative met with local labor representatives and advocates for low-wage workers Wednesday to bolster support for the president's push to raise the federal minimum wage.
Jay Williams, executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, lead a roundtable discussion about the issue Wednesday at the United Way of the Quad-Cities Area in Davenport. He said Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour is part of an effort to further the nation's economic recovery by building the middle class.
Williams said people who work hard and do the right things should at least be able to provide for their families and have some financial security.
"Unfortunately, we have not seen that for far too many people in this country," Williams said.
Williams also rejected some common arguments against raising the minimum wage, including the idea that it hurts businesses.
Williams said companies that pay low wages have more employee turnover, which results in increased cost for hiring and training new employees and decreased production.
He also said that although some people think the minimum wage benefits only teenagers, 80 percent of all minimum-wage workers are older than 20 and nearly half are the primary bread winners in their families.
Tom Moritz, a representative for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 431 and the Iowa vice president for the Quad-City Federation of Labor, said a group of Wal-Mart employees recently visited the union office and said that because they get only part-time hours, many are forced to have second jobs or rely on government assistance.
"They work hard, they're decent people, but there's no opportunity for them to get ahead," he said.
Dino Leone, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and president of the Quad-City Federation of Labor, said he recently took a group of care workers to Springfield, Ill., to meet with legislators and related the story of one woman who could pay for her employers' private health insurance plan if she made $1 more per hour.
But because she can't afford it, a $100,000 hospital bill for the woman's daughter was passed along to the state, Leone said.
Williams said more employees with health insurance can help save on medical costs for all taxpayers because preventative care can help avoid expensive medical treatments.
"You're going to have to pay one way or the other," Williams said. "Sooner or later, you're going to pay."
Tom Seymour, president of the Q-C Alliance for Retired Americans, said he represented people who are "too old to work and too young to die," many of whom worked for years and saved for their retirements only to have their pension funds and other savings wiped out in the economic collapse.
Seymour said retired people are being pushed back into the workforce, and working for the current minimum wage makes it difficult for them to enjoy their grandchildren and do the other things they worked and planned for years to do in their retirement.
Moritz also said he would like to see more government support for low-wage earners who go back to school to be trained for a higher-paying career.