LWV Now Supports A Living Wage–We Did It!! But with limits.

Pat Kuhi, Chair, Economic Inequality Team

Pat Kuhi, Chair, Economic Inequality Team

In a startling and welcome reversal, the Board of the LWVUS has just decided that the Meeting Basic Human Needs position does permit state and local leagues to lobby in support of raising state or local minimum wages or adopting living wage provisions. The entire Board, as well as the Advocacy Committee, “strongly supports” this new interpretation, according to a reliable source.

The official announcement appeared in the Feb 5 President’s weekly League Update which makes clear the limits of the permission.  The Meeting Basic Human Needs position will still not be used to lobby at the national level, a restriction I, at least, don’t agree with. You can read the Elizabeth MacNamara’s statement here.

LWVUS does indicate that state and local leagues will need to do the research necessary to determine what is an appropriate wage for their own community. What that wage is depends upon specific community situations and the relevant League would do its due diligence in researching the economic situation, including such things as the presence or absence of adequate mass transit, health insurance availability, etc.  Consult with all the stakeholders including small business, labor, neighboring jurisdictions etc.  Possibly holding public forums and small group discussions.  And then, if the League decides to act, working for a wage that fits the community and has a good chance of getting passed.  As with what constitutes a reasonable campaign contribution limit, an independent redistricting commission, adequate funding for health care or all the other complex policy issues the League deals with, it depends upon individual circumstance.

Pat Kuhi, chair of our Economic Inequality Team, was the driving force in bringing to League attention that the Basic Human Needs position was being interpreted so narrowly by national League that Leagues could not lobby using the obvious meaning of the position itself, which we quote and underline below.

MEETING BASIC HUMAN NEEDS (Impact on Issues 2012-2014, p.74).

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that one of the goals of social policy in the United States should be to promote self-sufficiency for individuals and families and that the most effective social programs are those designed to prevent or reduce poverty. 

Pat brought the issue to our 2014 Program Planning meeting; members agreed to propose a new national study or adoption by concurrence of an existing state or local position on minimum or living wage at the 2014 national convention and to campaign before the convention to persuade leagues to support our effort. At the convention, Pat led a lively meeting on the issue and a vigorous and successful effort to get our proposal considered on the floor of convention. We won more than 50% of delegate votes. Alas, adoption required a 2/3 vote so we lost that campaign.

But now we’ve won. Thanks to this LWVUS board decision, we no longer need to campaign to get LWVC to adopt a living wage study –the route that the LWVUS President advised us to take at the end of convention. We and other Leagues can just start to lobby for living wage and raising of minimum wage. The state of California, and the citeis of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and others have recently adopted new raises in their minimum wage. So LWVBAE lost one opportunity to take immediate local or state action—but many other Leagues will be able to lobby in their own communities.

Emeryville is currently considering a raise. We will propose to the Board an immediate letter to the city supporting this effort in general. We will probably not have time to do the relevant research to be able to suggest a specific wage level or range appropriate to the city and region.

More streamlined, less cumbersome advocacy? LWVUS is strongly encouraging state and local Leagues to use national positions to do advocacy at their level “no matter what the issue.” Chris promised an upcoming webinar to assist in this effort. An earlier webinar and many key tools for using League positions is posted at http://forum.lwv.org/member-resources/article/league-program-101

In taking a quick look at the earlier webinar, I learned that LWV does not require local and state leagues to consult them about applying national positions locally–unless they are using a national position to write to a national legislator or official.  I had always thought that we did need to consult to apply at least in any unclear cases.  This policy would certainly streamline our advocacy.

Stay tuned.

Nancy Bickel, President

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