“The fact that she voted no on increasing wages and including that in the COVID relief package, it’s disheartening.”
Gina Mendez’s mom is a minimum wage worker. Even with two jobs, Mendez said, the pay still isn’t enough.
That’s why Mendez, a community organizer with Living United For Change in Arizona (LUCHA), helped lead a rally Wednesday outside of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Phoenix office in support of a federal $15 minimum wage.
“We need to end starvation wages, make sure that tipped workers are included in the minimum wage, and … we’re still fighting for wages to increase,” she told The Copper Courier.
The Fight for $15
Sinema had the opportunity to vote yes on increasing the current federal $7.25 minimum wage last month when the Senate was considering the Raise the Wage Act as part of the latest COVID-19 relief package.
The legislation would have incrementally increased the federal minimum wage until it hit $15 in 2025. It also would have ended the subminimum wage over time for youths, workers who receive tips, and workers with disabilities.
Sinema was one of eight Democrats who voted down the measure. She wrote in a statement that while she isn’t necessarily opposed to increasing the minimum wage, she felt the discussion needed to happen separately from the pandemic aid bill.
Arizona’s other senator, Democrat Mark Kelly, voted yes on the Raise the Wage Act.
The rally attendees thanked Kelly for his vote and condemned Sinema for opposing it.
“Sinema knows that this is something that’s needed in the community,” Mendez said. “She’s out there to represent her constituents … and the fact that she voted no on increasing wages and including that in the COVID relief package, it’s disheartening.”
Larger Impact on Women
The Women Workers Day of Action rally highlighted how the majority of workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase are female. The event came on the last day of Women’s History Month.
Of the country’s 32 million workers who would have benefited from the Raise the Wage Act, nearly 19 million, or 59%, are women, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
The EPI estimates nearly a quarter of all minimum wage workers who would benefit are Black and Latina women.
Women have historically been impacted by wage disparities. In 2018, women of all races made 82 cents for every dollar men earned.
According to the Center for American Progress, women make up more than two-thirds of workers with tipped jobs, which have a federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.
Lower Wages, Higher Risk
Employees in this line of work have also been at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic due to customer interaction—if they’ve even been able to keep their jobs. And according to the The Leadership Conference Education Fund and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, 90% of women working in tipped jobs in restaurants said they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ellie Sims, an organizer with Arizona Jews for Justice, attended the rally to emphasize that a $15 minimum wage would “mean safety and security for so many women.”
“I have plenty of friends, I have very close family members, who have not only worked in the service industry, but have also been harassed in the service industry, that have also suffered daily in the service industry,” Sims told The Copper Courier, “and this should not be the reality of working class America.”
Coming to Arizona?
State Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, also attended the rally Wednesday.
Andrade said he will introduce a bill to do so in Arizona during the next legislative session if Congress doesn’t pass a $15 minimum wage federally.
“If a state representative can do it, there’s no reason that a senator that’s supposed to represent us all—a woman senator—there’s no reason for [Sinema] to vote down a $15 minimum wage,” Andrade told the crowd.
The idea is popular in the state. A poll from OH Predictive Insights this month found that 72% of Democrats supported a federal $15 minimum wage as well as 52% of Independents, while 22% of Republicans were supportive.
Arizona’s minimum wage went up to $12.15 an hour at the beginning of the year. The state is tied with Maine for the seventh-highest minimum wage in the US.
Some cities in Arizona are already pushing ahead to higher wages. Flagstaff’s minimum wage increased to $15 an hour at the beginning of this year, and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero implemented a $15 minimum wage for city employees this year.
Some Arizona businesses, like Xanadu Coffee and Salad and Go, also voluntarily offer employees a $15 starting wage.
“I’m just hoping at a national level the $15 minimum wage does get increased,” Xanadu co-owner Jessica Bueno told The Copper Courier earlier this year. “I think it’s a very much needed act to pass and that’s why I’m standing up and showing businesses how it can be done.”