MADISON — The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) has endorsed Senate Bill 1, legislation that would increase the minimum wage for workers in Wisconsin.
As the public policy voice of the Catholic bishops, the WCC testified that a proposal to raise the minimum wage “is consistent with the tenets of Catholic social teaching on the dignity of workers and the needs of low income wage earners in our state.”
WCC Executive Director John Huebscher presented the testimony at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor, Elections, and Urban Affairs.
‘Every worker has dignity’
“Ultimately, the value of work is grounded in the dignity of the human beings who do it,” Huebscher testified. “Just as every life has value, so too does every worker have dignity. Wages are a critical way by which we recognize that dignity.”
Senate Bill 1 increases the minimum wage for most employees from its current level of $6.50 an hour to $7.15 on June 1 of this year. Other workers, such as tipped employees, agricultural workers, and minors who earn a lower minimum wage will also see increases.
As the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families reported last year, raising the minimum wage will help over 250,000 workers, 10 percent of the labor force. Seventy percent of these workers are adults. Many are parents. Nearly 90,000 of Wisconsin’s children have parents who earn the minimum wage.
Huebscher referred to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on work, Laborem exercens, in his testimony. The pope wrote that the responsibility to treat workers justly is not limited to those who hire them.
This duty extends to all persons and institutions such as government, financial organizations, and others, who influence the structures and conditions in which work is performed. “Pope John Paul II referred to these entities as ‘indirect employers.’”
“In a democracy and consumer-driven economy such as ours, we the voters and consumers can be thought of as ‘indirect employers’ to the extent that our choices govern decisions in the marketplace, Huebscher observed.
“As we determine the justice of our minimum wage, we who are consumers of these leisure activities and therefore indirect employers must ask ourselves, ‘what can workers who make our leisure activities possible buy with the wages they earn?’” Huebscher said. “Are their wages sufficient to pay for their essential needs?”
He added that the current economic downturn makes adjusting the minimum wage even more necessary.