Melton proposes legislation to increase minimum wage

Published 5:35 pm Friday, January 3, 2014

Nearly five years since the minimum wage was raised to $7.25-an-hour by the federal government, one local Alabama legislator is preparing a bill that would increase the minimum wage in Alabama to $9.80 an hour.

State Rep. Darrio Melton said he is drafting legislation that would set a minimum wage for workers in the state instead of following the minimum required by Washington, as is currently practiced in the state.

“The conversation has to start in the state of Alabama,” Melton said. “We don’t have a minimum wage at all in our state, whereas many other states do. We have to start the conversation and move forward on this instead of always waiting for the federal government to tell us the minimum we can give.”

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Melton said his hope is the rise in wages would help workers in the state be able to pull themselves above the poverty level and depend less and less on government programs.

“If we increase the minimum wage in Alabama, we will uplift probably half the people who are working at minimum

wage,” Melton said. “We can increase the minimum wage, or we can continue to fall back on that safety net, which is meant for hard and difficult times. But we can get people off of welfare and raising the minimum wage would do that.”

Along with poor families, Melton said this legislation would also include language that would allow the state to become more competitive in landing small businesses.

“We see the governor and the leadership in Montgomery offer all these incentives to big companies in hopes they can attract them to the state,” Melton said. “And part of the legislation is in hopes that the governor will start doing the same thing for small businesses, in regards to trying to make sure we are sustaining them and making it possible for small businesses to hire more individuals.”

Alabama is one of five states in the union that does not set it’s own minimum wage, instead deferring to following the minimum wage determined by the federal government.

Nancy Hewston, Vice President of Communications with the Business Council of Alabama, said in an email Friday the council would work diligently to oppose any such raise in the minimum wage across the state.

“The BCA works to protect Alabama’s competitive edge nationally and internationally by fighting efforts to create a state minimum wage above the national minimum wage,” Hewston said.

The last increase in minimum wage mandated by the federal government was in 2009, when it was raised to $7.25. Melton said the cost of living has risen so much since that 2009 increase, that many workers are struggling to become financially stable.

“Prices keep going up on all of our products and the minimum wage has remained the same over the last several years, so what we are trying to do is get people up to the cost of living,” Melton said. “What we are finding is more people are getting in to poverty because the cost of living is going up and wages are not going up.”

Melton said his legislation, would include a stipulation that the minimum wage in the state would be closely monitored and could be increased when needed.

“The legislation we are proposing has a code in there that stipulates that as the cost of living goes up, the minimum wage would go with it,” Melton said. “It’s our time now to show we can do something about the poverty issue that we have here in our state. I know it’s an uphill battle, but we have to start getting people out of poverty and off welfare.”