"He's wrong, and he's also breaking the law": Why low-wage workers are suing Scott Walker

Wisconsin workers file suit after Walker's administration claims $7.25 minimum wage meets "living wage" standard

Published October 28, 2014 2:17PM (EDT)

  (AP/Cliff Owen)
(AP/Cliff Owen)

A coalition of workers and labor groups announced on Monday that it is suing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker over his refusal to raise the state's $7.25 an hour minimum wage.

Wisconsin law requires that the state's minimum wage be a "living wage," and allows workers to petition the state's Department of Workforce Development for a review of the state's minimum if they believe it fails to meet that standard. The lawsuit announced yesterday aims to force Walker to appoint a commission to set a new minimum wage.

Earlier this month, the DWD rebuffed a labor-backed effort to raise the minimum in accordance with the "living wage" standard, stating that $7.25 an hour is a living wage. The Walker administration based that determination on a study from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, an industry trade group with a history of opposing minimum wage increases. The WRA's study claimed that raising the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost 16,500 jobs, a finding disputed by many economists. In a letter endorsing a $10.10 per hour minimum, a group of 600 economists, including seven Nobel laureates, noted  that economic studies demonstrate that "increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market."

Walker's Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, supports raising the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Recent polls show that the race between Walker and Burke is a dead heat, and Walker's unpopular stance against a minimum wage increase hasn't improved his political standing. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this month, the governor declared that the minimum wage "doesn’t serve a purpose" and that his focus is on finding workers better-paying jobs, but the University of Wisconsin's Center on Wisconsin Strategy calculates that raising the state's minimum to $10.10 an hour would boost the pay of half a million Wisconsinites.

Jon Green, deputy director of Working Families, one of the groups backing the lawsuit, explained the decision to take legal action against Walker over the issue.

"Scott Walker might be the only person in Wisconsin who thinks you can live on $7.25 an hour," Green told Salon. "He's wrong, and he's also breaking the law."

By Luke Brinker

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2014 Elections Economy Living Wages Mary Burke Minimum Wage Scott Walker Wisconsin Working Families