Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the powerful Senate committee he chairs will take up a bill next month to raise the federal minimum to $17 an hour over five years.
The increase amounts to an increase of more than 134% from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
The famously liberal senator did not say if he’ll also seek to raise or eliminate the minimum wage required under federal law for tipped workers. Under the current rules, regularly tipped employees like restaurant servers and bartenders can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour directly by their employer if they make at least $5.12 an hour in gratuities.
An increase in the federal minimum wage was last proposed in 2007 and passed by Congress in 2008, according to Sanders. “Think the world has changed since then?” the senator asked at a press conference where he announced his plan.
Sanders said he decided on $17 an hour because it’s the new “living wage,” a term that was coined by organized labor when it first started pushing years ago for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“As a result of inflation, $15 an hour back in 2021 would be over $17 an hour today,” Sanders said.
“This is not a radical idea,” he continued. He noted that even the residents of such conservative states as Nebraska and Florida have voted overwhelmingly via referendum to raise their locale’s minimum. Sanders said the tallies underscore that raising the pay floor has broad popular support throughout the country.
The $17 target set by Sanders signals a redefinition of “living wage” by organized labor. The largest union in the hospitality business, the Service Employees International Union, has a splinter group called Fight for $15 and A Union.
At the press conference, Sanders and the labor leaders who appeared with him used a new slogan on a sign adorning the podium: “It’s time for $17.”
“No one in this county can survive on $7.25 an hour,” Sanders said, “You can’t do it at nine bucks an hour, you can’t do it on 12 bucks an hour.”
He estimated that 35 million people in the United States currently make less than $17 an hour.
Sanders said the HELP Committee will begin finalizing a wage-hike bill starting June 14. Because Democrats control the Senate, a bill coming out of the committee has a good chance of passing. But it would likely face considerable resistance in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a majority of seats.
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