Earlier this year Alabama legislators denied a raise to 40,000 low-wage workers in Birmingham by passing a law that blocked the city–and all other local jurisdictions–from raising its minimum wage. The bill, introduced by Rep. David Faulkner (R-46), was rushed through the legislature despite a pressing need to pass a budget, address funding for Medicaid, and decide what to do about Alabama’s crumbling prisons. HB 174 was signed by Governor Bentley less than an hour after being sent to his desk. The whole process took just 2 weeks.
Alabama has now enshrined into law that no city or local jurisdiction can pass a minimum wage or mandate workplace benefits such as paid leave beyond what is required by state or federal law. The federal government has not raised the minimum wage since 2009 when it established the current $7.25 wage floor. Alabama has never enacted a minimum wage on its own–Birmingham was the first city in the deep South to do so–meaning there is no chance of workers receiving a fair wage under its current state representatives.
Not surprisingly, the vote for the minimum wage ban was highly partisan. The 8 Senate Democrats were joined by Harri Anne Smith (I-29), Bill Holtzclaw (R-2), and Paul Bussman (R-4) in opposing the measure while the remaining 23 Republicans voted for it. In the House, 70 Republicans voted for the bill and were joined by Rep. Elaine Beech (D-65). The remaining Democrats opposed. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-54) of Birmingham was not present.
There may be little chance of passing pro-worker legislation in the current session, but Alabama residents have a choice. The entire legislature is up for election in 2018, so it’s time for us to take on the minimum wage opponents. Sixty-seven percent of lawmakers voted to block Birmingham’s minimum wage law and they can be voted out of office. It’s clear they don’t have the best interests of everyday Alabamians at heart. Nearly half of Alabama workers–predominantly women and African Americans–struggle to make ends meet because their wages are too low. It is possible to overthrow the conservative majority and replace them with representatives for the people.