Low-Income Workers Rally Downtown To Push For Higher Wages

Photos by Ellen Trinklein
Labor unions and low-income workers across the country are calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage today. Here in Houston, protesters gathered downtown to call on low-wage employers to pay their employees more.

In Texas, more than 450,000 workers were paid the minimum hourly wage of $7.25 or less last year. That’s the highest number of minimum wage workers out of all of states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Proportionately, 7.5 percent of hourly paid workers in Texas were paid minimum wage or less, trailing only Idaho.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was raised. Labor and community groups rallied outside the offices of a low-wage employer downtown to call for a raise of the minimum wage and to ask employers to voluntarily pay their employees more.

Elsa Caballero is with the Service Employees International Union, one of the groups that were protesting in Houston.

“We found ourselves very shocked and surprised about how many companies pay minimum wage that you would think are able to better pay jobs.”

She names the Houston airports, convention centers and many chain restaurants as examples of places that pay minimum or near minimum wages to some of their workers.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, says overall, the number of jobs that pay only the minimum wage is low — and those that do are meant as a starting point and wages are usually raised a short time later.

He says the TAB accepts the general idea of a minimum wage but says raising it further would be counterproductive, because employers would be reluctant to hire more low-skill workers.

“We think it’s inappropriate to increase that number, especially at a time when youth unemployment is so high. Those are the kinds of starter job that people need to get so they can move on and get a better job.”

State Senator Sylvia Garcia in the crowd
Texas state Sen. Sylvia Garcia stands with the protesters.

But Elsa Caballero says it’s no longer just high school or college students who work jobs that pay minimum wage.

“More and more, these jobs are being taken by heads of households who have families to take care of. It’s no longer just a job that someone was getting to help subsidize another income.”

Bill Hammond says most minimum wage workers would probably prefer those jobs to not having a job at all.

Even so, Caballero says if the salaries of Houston’s top-paid executives have been rising over the last years, so should those of low-income workers.

“Workers are not demanding, you know, outrageous salaries. They’re just demanding to be able to sustain their families, work a 8-hours day job and get paid, you know, something reasonable.”

The proposed Minimum Wage Act of 2013 is currently pending in committee at the House of Representatives. It would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

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Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...