The American worker was celebrated Monday, but much of discussion on the Labor Day holiday and in recent days focused on wages.
Five days after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech, the sentiment for a higher minimum wage continues.
The march in 1963 was known at the time as the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," and King advocated for a increase in the federal minimum wage of $2 per hour.
On Sunday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn continued his fight to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour in Illinois while on Monday, a local employer voiced his objections and some workers said there was room for wage improvement in today's economy.
Along Monday's Labor Day Parade route in East Moline, the assessment of the economy was mixed. Some people said the situation has been improving overall. But some said they were worried about the level of pay that comes with the jobs that are open.
"We’ve got a lot of jobs around here, but they don’t pay squat," said Lloyd Roberts, a truck driver from Bettendorf.
Stacey Gates, of Colona, works in the health care industry. She said she and her family are doing well, but she sees others struggling.
"They say it’s turning around, but I think it’s slow," she said. "I see the kids trying to start out with the wages they have, trying to buy homes and the cost of things for them. I think it's more difficult for the kids who are graduating and starting out in the world."
Employer Pryce Boeye takes a different view, Boeye, president and chief executive at Hungry Hobo in the Quad-Cities, is against raising the minimum wage at this time.
"Especially as we are still looking to see how the Affordable Care Act is going to play out," he said of federal health care legislation.
Owners of this business that employs 200 people always have been against significant or aggressive wage increases, he said. The increases force an employer to pay an artificially higher wage to a person who is relatively unskilled and new to the job, he said.
"That ends up hurting current employees in terms of possible raises and bonuses and further job opportunities in the company," he said.
Dino Leone does not see it that way. Leone, president of the Quad-City Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, termed the minimum wage a "poverty wage" and noted that when it goes up, no jobs are lost. "If anything, it creates jobs," he said, noting that workers spend their additional income in local businesses.
"This would not hurt McDonald's or other fast-food corporations one iota," Leone said. "It might hurt the top 1 percent of Americans, but then, so be it."
Leone said some of the lowest-paid workers in America are certified nurses assistants, or CNAs — a direct-care provider in the health industry.
Cheryl Ballantyne, coordinator of the nursing assistant program at Black Hawk College, Moline, said she thinks most CNA jobs pay higher than the minimum wage.
"We would all love to have more pay, of course," she added.
However, some of Ballantyne's students are in her classes to get away from jobs that pay minimum wage. "They just can't make a living or pursue a job they want on minimum wage, so they get the training as a CNA and use it as a springboard to move up in a health career," she said.
The enrollment in the eight-credit college program has stayed steady over the past few years, Ballantyne said. "Students who have finished the program ... tell me they now can afford to have an apartment and bedrooms for their children," she said.
The job choice "definitely helps them," she added.
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Quinn is advocating for the state's minimum wage to increase from $8.25 to $10 per hour. He noted in an appearance Sunday at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church In Chicago that a full-time minimum wage worker in Illinois earns $16,600 annually, which is below the federal poverty threshold of $23,550 for a family of four.
In Iowa, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and Boeye said the state's business climate is much better than in Illinois. In fact, he said his business growth is currently only in Iowa because of a lower minimum wage, employment insurance and worker's compensation insurance, as well a recent legislation that lowers some commercial property taxes.
In October, Boeye is opening his 13th Hungry Hobo, in Eldridge.
"Companies that sit on a border, like us, have to make a decision on where to deploy capital," Boeye said. ""Right now, you'd be hard-pressed to make the case for the State of Illinois," he added.
Boeye added that Hungry Hobo only uses the minimum wage as a training wage, and individuals who have drive and ambition quickly can earn much higher wages in the company.
Leone, at the labor federation, pointed out studies that show wages have stagnated in Iowa.
An annual assessment of conditions for working people by the Iowa Policy Project published recently said wages for people have stagnated for at least 30 years.
Full-time workers with children deserve a living wage, Leone said. "Let's make the American dream a possible dream, not an impossible one."
(Quad-City Times reporter Ed Tibbetts contributed to this story.)