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Sanders Demands McConnell Allow Senate Vote to Raise 'Absurdly Low' Federal Minimum Wage to $15

"I ask that you allow the Senate to take up the Raise the Wage Act to immediately begin improving the lives of working Americans across the country."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a rally in front of the Capitol April 26, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Activists and low-wage workers gathered on Capitol Hill to rally for a $15 minimum and rights to form unions. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Arguing that "millions of Americans are sick and tired of working longer hours for lower wages while almost half of all new income goes to the top one percent," Sen. Bernie Sanders demanded Thursday that Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allow the Senate to vote on the Raise the Wage Act of 2019.

"The time is long overdue to raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently at the absurdly low level of $7.25 an hour, to a living wage—$15 an hour."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"The time is long overdue to raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently at the absurdly low level of $7.25 an hour, to a living wage—$15 an hour," Sanders declared in a letter (pdf) to McConnell. "People who work 40 hours a week should not be forced to live in poverty."

Sanders pointed out that the bill is poised for a floor vote in the House after being favorably discharged by a key committee, and several states—including Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York—already have enacted similar local measures.

Noting that workers nationwide "have experienced 40 years of wage stagnation and roughly 40 percent of Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency," the senator wrote, "I ask that you allow the Senate to take up the Raise the Wage Act to immediately begin improving the lives of working Americans across the country."

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The legislation, introduced by Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in January, would increase the federal hourly minimum wage to "a living wage" of $15 by 2024, bar employers from paying tipped workers below the nationwide rate, and set standards for pay increases for low-wage workers.

An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis released in February showed that the bill would, as Common Dreams reported at the time, "boost the incomes and improve the lives of an estimated 40 million Americans." The EPI report also explained that "because lower-paid workers spend much of their extra earnings, this injection of wages would help stimulate the economy and spur greater business activity and job growth."

The letter from Sanders on Thursday came just a day after he traveled to Arkansas to advocate for Walmart workers at the retail giant's annual meeting. During a speech Wednesday, he said, "Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages—wages that are so low that many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing in order to survive."

Sanders—a longtime labor rights advocate and 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate—is scheduled to rally with striking McDonald's workers in Iowa this weekend.

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