In 2009, the federal minimum wage was raised from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour, the last step of a three-step increase approved by Congress in 2007. The minimum wage had been stuck at $5.15 per hour for 10 years before 2007, so it should be a no-brainer to hike it again, especially amid the pandemic that is impacting Americans financially. Unless you’re a Republican. Costco CEO Craig Jelinek got into it with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Thursday at the Senate Budget Committee hearing about increasing the minimum wage. Costco, for its part, pays its employees a minimum of $15 per hour, and they are about to increase that to $16 per hour.
Graham insisted that increasing the minimum wage would harm small businesses in his state and said it’s “not the time” to discuss it because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just want to let you know that my concern is not really about Costco,” Graham told Jelinek. “I’m worried about the small business owner who is struggling because COVID has reduced their capability to earn a living. Do you understand where I’m coming from?”
“I do understand where you’re coming from,” Jelinek responded.
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“So, if you run a restaurant or hotel and nobody can travel in the country, and seating capacity has been reduced by half or more, the revenues are down and can you understand why an increased mandate from the government in terms of cost would be a devastating blow?” Graham asked.
“No, I can’t understand why it would be a devastating blow,” Jelinek shot back. “I think it’s a devastating blow to the employees.
“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” Graham said. “You can’t understand why a restaurant in South Carolina who has got half seating capacity because of COVID, barely hanging on, it would be devastating to them to increase their cost in terms of doubling the minimum wage? You don’t understand that?”
“I don’t know that I was suggesting doubling the minimum wage,” Jelinek said.
That’s when Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-VT) explained that the proposed legislation would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over a five-year period. It’s sort of how they did it before — over ten years ago.
It’s never the right time to discuss this with Republicans, apparently.
Featured image via screen capture