Wisconsin rejects 'living wage' complaints filed by workers

Wisconsin rejects 'living wage' complaints filed by workers


Rejecting complaints from more than 100 low-wage Wisconsin workers, the state Department of Workforce Development has determined “there is not reasonable cause to believe” that wages paid to the complainants “are not a living wage.”

That determination was made late Monday by Robert Rodriguez, administrator for the DWD’s Equal Rights Division.

A group that favors boosting the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage is trying to use a 101-year-old state law that requires all workers in Wisconsin to be paid a “living wage.”

In a statement, Wisconsin Jobs Now called rejection of the complaints “outrageous.”

“Gov. (Scott) Walker might be the only person in the entire country who actually thinks that anyone in today’s economy can survive solely on $7.25 an hour,” the Milwaukee-based group said.

“The law in Wisconsin is very clear: ‘every wage paid by any employer to any employee shall not be less than a living wage.’ Anyone who works a full and honest day’s work should make enough money to pay for the basics.

“The fact that Gov. Walker thinks that $290 a week is what it costs to cover the basics of life in Wisconsin is beyond comprehension.”

But in a statement, DWD spokesman John Dipko said many of the complaints listed wages that were higher than the minimum wage — some as high as $15.07 an hour.

And, “many of the statements reference items that go beyond basic necessities; others cite receiving public aid or additional sources of income,” he said.

Some backers of a higher rate, including Democratic lawmakers and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, support raising the minimum wage in stages to $10.10 an hour over three years.

Walker opposes raising the minimum wage, saying it would force employers to cut jobs.

Under the law, the agency can consider the effect of raising wages on the state’s economy, including on “job creation, retention, and expansion ... the availability of entry-level jobs and on regional economic conditions.”

Dipko cited a Wisconsin Restaurant Association study projecting that hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lead to 16,500 fewer jobs in Wisconsin.

Peter Rickman, director for Wisconsin Jobs Now’s campaign dubbed Raise Wisconsin, said the “living wage” law is unique to Wisconsin.

It requires DWD, after receiving a “verified complaint,” to investigate and determine within 20 days whether any employee’s wage “is not a living wage ... needed to maintain minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.”

Among the complainants was Rita Seward of Milwaukee, who earns $10 an hour as a certified nursing assistant.

A mother of three, Seward said her monthly bills include $575 in rent, $135 for heat and electricity, $350 for food, $120 for student loans, $80 for transportation and $60 for phone service.

She wrote that her children, ages 7, 5 and 2, have state-sponsored health insurance but she doesn’t.

“I haven’t gotten a routine check-up since I had my last baby two years ago,” Seward wrote.

Both Rickman and DWD said they are not aware of any previous effort in which workers attempted to trigger a study of living wages under the 1913 law.

Wisconsin Jobs Now spokeswoman Lisa Lucas said the group is exploring its next step.


Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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