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If Amazon Can Raise the Minimum Wage, Why Can’t Congress?

Here’s what I learned as a young single dad — raising wages is the moral issue of our time

A worker places a label on an order at an Amazon fullfillment center in May. Amazon is showing moral leadership, Norcross writes. Why won’t Congress? (Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images file photo)
A worker places a label on an order at an Amazon fullfillment center in May. Amazon is showing moral leadership, Norcross writes. Why won’t Congress? (Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images file photo)

OPINION — As the country awaits an announcement about where Amazon’s next headquarters will be located, there is equally big news coming from the online giant — they’re rightfully raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This is a big win for America’s workers, and I know because I once worked for minimum wage. I was a young single dad raising my son and having to balance work, family life and a checkbook. After completing an apprenticeship, I became an electrician and spent my adult life fighting for working families through the labor movement.

The best social program in the world is a good job with fair wages and the dignity that comes with it. Now serving in Congress, I can say with certainty that raising wages is the moral issue of our time.

Amazon is taking a step in the right direction, and it is well past time for Congress to follow suit. Leaders in the House and Senate haven’t acted to raise the federal minimum wage in over 11 years, and it’s stuck at $7.25 an hour. That leaves Americans who work full-time living in poverty. These families come up thousands of dollars short each month just trying to meet basic living standards.

I’ve met with thousands of low-wage workers who tell me about the heartbreaking choices they’ve had to make. Medicine or meals? School books or bills? Those questions shouldn’t be a reality — not for Americans with a full-time job! That doesn’t reflect our country’s values.

It’s illogical that our nation’s workers are more productive than ever, but aren’t being rewarded for it. Workers are struggling with high health care costs, expensive prescription drugs and worries about whether or not they’ll be able to retire with dignity. The sad truth is, business profits are all going to CEO bonuses and offshore accounts instead of actual paychecks.

And while everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, our policies are not addressing the needs of everyday Americans — the many of us without trust funds, yachts and private jets. Trumpism favors the wealthiest among us — it doesn’t match American ingenuity or productivity.

To make matters worse, President Trump and his Republican accomplices passed a heinous tax scam that gives 83 percent of the tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent. They rewarded billionaires, prioritized corporate profits and screwed working families — particularly in my home state of New Jersey — by gutting critical state and local tax deductions that Americans depend on.

Instead of being honest that so-called “trickle-down economics” doesn’t do anything to raise real wages, Republicans celebrated a few companies for giving one-time bonuses to rank-and-file workers. While a bonus is nice, it doesn’t offer the same income security as a wage increase.

And now it has been reported that bonuses at Amazon could get scrapped to pay for the minimum wage increase. Predictably, and hypocritically, the extreme right is outraged and wants the raise to be cancelled and the bonus structure to be reinstated. But I would tell these critics that this is a false and self-imposed choice.

There is no need to sacrifice incentive pay for a living wage. And when it comes time to debate this issue in Congress, I will always fight for what benefits workers most. In this case, raising the minimum wage does more to raise workers, raise communities and raise quality of life.

It’s also important to note that I’ve heard from Amazon workers in my home district that they will not be losing their incentive pay and, ultimately, it’s a win-win — their bonuses are secure and take-home pay is increasing.

Now, let’s build on this success and make a $15 minimum wage the law of the land. The Raise the Wage Act will do this responsibly over the next seven years, helping over 40 million Americans who will put that money back into their local economies.

Think it can’t pass in a divisive or divided Congress? Every single time Congress raised the minimum wage, it passed with strong bipartisan support. History shows that if we can just put the issue to a vote, it will pass by a wide margin. So let’s get to it. Americans are ready — and waiting — for Congress to raise the wage. Let’s make Amazon’s move a catalyst for action.

Rep. Donald Norcross represents New Jersey’s 1st District.

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