On Thursday minimum wage workers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Governor Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange saying the state violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution when it blocked a Birmingham law raising the minimum wage to $10.10. The plaintiffs argue that the law passed by the majority white legislature had a disproportionate impact on minority workers. Roughly three quarters of Birmingham’s population is non-white. The proposed wage increase was estimated to benefit 40,000 low-wage workers in the city.
According to the workers’ attorney:
This is the latest chapter in the long history of the state of Alabama where a white legislature overrides the authority of a majority-minority city council.
Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is well known for carrying Jim Crow Era racism into the modern age. It remains the longest constitution in the world, 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution. Ever since its inception, lawmakers have sought to limit the power of African Americans in all aspects of life, be it social, economic, or political. After all, this is the state that still celebrates the Confederacy with three different state-sanctioned holidays including one on the same day as Martin Luther King Day.
Just under Governor Bentley, Alabama passed one of the most restrictive anti-immigration laws in the country, fought the federal government to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees, implemented a strict voter ID law while also closing DMVs in predominantly poor, black areas of the state and banned any local jurisdiction from raising its minimum wage.
Chief Justice Roy Moore has openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court by attempting to block same-sex marriages and spoke derisively against secular and LGBT+ individuals when it resulted in legal action. The wealthy and predominantly white Shelby County was responsible for dismantling the Voting Rights Act–a major victory of the Civil Rights Era and the historic events that took place in the impoverished and majority black city of Selma. And now the legislature is refusing to fully fund Medicaid which will disproportionately affect residents of color.
Plaintiff’s in the lawsuit point out the clear double standard held by those in power. According to their attorney:
The hypocrisy of this legislature is in full view when not a single member of the majority of the legislature has said a single word about city of Oxford’s recent transgender bathroom ordinance, which blatantly discriminates against LGBT community, but they were so concerned about the city of Birmingham.
Alabama NAACP president Benard Simelton elaborates:
It’s also ironic that the governor has seen fit to provide an increase in salary and bonuses to his own staff, but still when the people in the trenches, the people who need the raise the most – not to get rich but just to increase their standard of living – he quickly signed the bill that overturned the decision of the citizens and the city of Birmingham. Over 70 percent of the people that would have benefited from this raise are African-American, poor, minorities. We think there’s some racial intent there to overturn the decision of city government in Birmingham, to keep minorities and African-Americans poor.
Alabama has time and time again proven its commitment to white supremacy. Built on the exploitation of black slave labor, the state’s institutions are completely incapable of doing the right thing. To workers, it’s clear:
The state stole my raise.
But we don’t just fight for a higher wage, but dignity and the economic freedom to build the lives we see fit for ourselves and our families. Even if this lawsuit is successful and therefore allows Birmingham’s minimum wage increase of $10.10 to go into effect immediately, the fight will not be over. Alabama residents shouldn’t have to fight for their most basic needs. The state’s political class has proven it cannot be trusted and must be replaced.
Featured Image: By Rowland Scherman; restored by Adam Cuerden – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain