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Raising the minimum wage isn’t enough

Stuart Appelbaum | 3/13/2014, 11:51 a.m.
Stuart Applebaum

We applaud and support efforts to raise the minimum wage in New York and elsewhere. But while it’s a step in the right direction, raising wages alone is not sufficient. The real problem is that even with a higher wage, far too many workers are not able to earn enough to support themselves and their families because they aren’t given the opportunity to work the amount of hours that they need to make a living.

When weekly schedules don’t even approach full-time work and are subject to change on a moment’s notice, workers have no certainty as to how they’ll survive. The problem isn’t just low wages, but insufficient hours in the retail industry. Part-time work has become the new norm. But people still have full-time families and full-time responsibilities.

The bottom line is that even as wages go up, part-time workers cannot provide for their families without adequate, stable and predictable hours. If we want to make sure that low-wage workers will be able to support themselves, what we need to do is to make sure that they have a collective voice to address all of their concerns in the workplace, including the hours they work. Collective bargaining is the vehicle toward building jobs that are truly better, and the best way to deal with inadequate pay and hours is through a union contract.

When retailers like the Gap raise their minimum pay rate to $10 an hour, it’s a positive action. But what would really make a difference at the Gap and other companies is to give these workers more hours and regular schedules that workers can rely on. Collective bargaining—and fairness for workers who seek it—has always been and will continue to be the single most important means for creating jobs that can build better lives and stronger communities.