The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

August 6, 2013

Will fast-food protests spur higher minimum wage?

(Continued)

The Employment Policies Institute, which receives some funding from the industry, ran a full-page ad last week in USA Today, warning of another potential consequence: It showed the uniform of a fast-food worker with an iPad face, saying the wage increase could result in employees being replaced with automation, such as touch-screen ordering.

So at a time when the economy is growing steadily but slowly and about 11.5 million people are unemployed — nearly double the level before the Great Recession — how likely is it Congress will increase the minimum wage? And have these protests done any good?

The answers depend on whom you ask.

"They're very effective," says U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "They've brought attention to appalling conditions with workers putting in very long hours ... and not making enough money to survive. This I think is scandal. .. We believe it's essential to be paid livable wages. We know the companies can afford it. These are highly profitable businesses. It would be good not just for the family budget but for the national budget."

Ellison's caucus launched a national "Raise Up America" campaign this summer that has partnered with fast-food workers and others in low-wage industries to highlight the call for better salaries. The congressman says he's not deterred by likely resistance in the GOP-dominated House.

"Remember, things that don't look possible become possible if people advocate for them," he says, adding that in 1955 someone was probably saying "they're never going to end segregation. ... Sometimes these things catch on. I think the thing to do is keep on pushing, keep on talking. ... That's how we win."

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