During a campaign visit to SEIU Nevada Monday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand pledged her support for a $15 minimum wage.
Gillibrand and scores of Democratic senators and members of Congress, including Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen and all Nevada Democratic members of the House, are co-sponsors of legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.
In Nevada, state lawmakers are considering a bill to raise the wage to $12 by 2023.
Asked about the difference between the federal and state proposals Monday, Gillibrand said $12 is “inadequate.”
“It’s not enough,” she said when asked about Nevada’s proposal. “I think $15 is the minimum and we need to index for inflation, which means start at $15 and raise it every year.”
Wage issues, workers’ rights and income inequality took center stage during Gillibrand’s campaign stop at SEIU Monday afternoon. Her visit comes less than two weeks after SEIU and the Center for American Progress hosted a workers forum featuring six other presidential candidates.
During the visit, fast food workers and home care aides voiced concerns about the inability to survive on low wages — the current wage in Nevada is $7.25 for workers who have benefits and $8.25 without health benefits.
Darla Garcia, who has been working in the fast food industry, is hopeful that more candidates are talking about minimum wage issues, saying it is “one of the most important topics that could be discussed.”
“This is our livelihood,” she said. “It’s easy to support $12 versus $15 when you already make a good salary and have health care coverage.”
She added that she is glad presidential candidates are leading are supporting the call for $15, but is disappointed Nevada legislators aren’t echoing it. “By 2023, $12 is going to feel like $9,” Garcia said referring to the state’s attempts.
Gillibrand argued that increasing the wage doesn’t hurt businesses, a concern among Nevada lawmakers. “It doesn’t leave small businesses or the business industry behind,” she said.
While the federal $15 by 2024 legislation is stalled as long as Republicans control the White House and the Senate, she urged changes at the local and state level. “We’ve seen cities be successful at $15,” she said. “When whole cities (raise the wage) everyone thrives.” Several local governments nationwide have raised the wage to $15, or started to, and researchers have found the wage increases have not harmed the labor market.
Better wages and benefits wasn’t the only topic she spoke about. Gillibrand also vowed to fight against “right-to-work” laws and to stand behind efforts by workers to unionize. “I think the ability of workers to unionize and organize is the greatest economic engine that exists,” she said.
In addition to wage issues, she advocated for increasing workforce development and training, implementing paid sick leave — another proposal Nevada lawmakers are considering — and finding options for debt-free college.
“I think for a lot of people, education is so necessary and they don’t have access — and they certainly don’t have debt free access,” she said. “I think one of the best ways to get at that challenge is to offer free college for any young person who commits to public service. You do a year of public service you can get two years at a community college or state school for free. If you’d like to do two years (public service) you can get four years free.”
With more candidates being pressed about how their policies would specifically impact black and brown communities, Gillibrand said that institutionalized racism needs to be considered when considering solutions to economic disparities.
The government, she added, could provide a variety of solutions.
“If you’re a small business owner and a woman or person of color, your access to capital is less available,” she said as one example. “I want to use the (Small Business Association) as a new framework to actually deal with economic inequality and use it as a tool to help women and minority-owned businesses.”
Gillibrand also said she would support a commission to study reparations, and prioritize ways to end high maternal mortality rates among black women — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris have previously brought up proposals for tackling the maternal mortality rate.
Gillibrand said with more women — in particular women of color — running for and winning a variety of offices, they are bringing their perspectives to the political table.
“It’s really important we change the players list and that we have diversity in Washington,” she said. “If you bring diversity to the table, you’re bringing a different life experience. That life experience is needed.”