Fighting For a Higher Minimum Wage in Idaho

by

Demonstrators, including Father Jesus Camancho (left), at a demonstration in favor of raising Idaho's minimum wage. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Demonstrators, including Father Jesus Camancho (left), at a demonstration in favor of raising Idaho's minimum wage.

The demonstration began with a benediction led by Father Jesus Camacho, of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Boise, who spoke on the need for justice and human rights in Idaho and around the world. Then the chants began.

"Hey McDonald's raise the pay—help our econ-o-my today!" shouted a chorus of demonstrators who had gathered the afternoon of Dec. 5 on the sidewalk in front of the McDonald's at 1375 Broadway Ave. They were there to protest Idaho's minimum wage—$7.25 per hour—and raise awareness of Raise Idaho and United Vision for Idaho's ballot initiative, which the organization hopes to put on Idaho ballots in 2014.

UVI's plan would raise Idaho's minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 by the end of 2017 by bumping it up by increments and pegging the minimum wage to the consumer price index. To get its plan on the November 2014 ballot, UVI will need to collect a minimum of 53,751 signatures by April 15.

The demonstrators, holding aloft pickets with slogans like "Raise Wages Lift The Economy," chanted and whistled into the Broadway Avenue traffic. More than a few cars and trucks honked in reply, and demonstrators said that response to the demonstration was overwhelmingly positive. 

"Nothing has had a better reception than this," said Adrian Adrienne Evans, of UVI. "The reality is that poverty and economic downturn has affected everybody."

"Any manifestation for asking for justice—I'm in favor of that," Camacho said following his benediction. 

The plight of the poor and alleviating the distress of poverty is a major part of Catholic social teaching, called "preferential option for the poor," and was the subject of comments by Pope Francis in November, in which he urged leaders to combat inequality and poverty, and called unfettered capitalism "tyranny." It's also a point of intersection between the church and UVI, which sees Idaho's minimum wage as having a deleterious effect on the economy and increasing the burden of the working poor on social services. 

Raise Idaho and UVI's initiative will not be subject to a law passed during the 2013 Idaho Legislature requiring initiatives to gather signatures from 6 percent of of voters in 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts. Rather, the initiative will only have to gather signatures from 6 percent of Idaho voters as a whole, allowing the organizations to focus their efforts on Idaho's population centers.

Evans said that raising the minimum wage would be good for business big and small by putting more money in the hands of consumers, and that doing so in Idaho would be an example to the rest of the country, as a significant number of the jobs created during Idaho's economic recovery pay the minimum wage.

"People will have more to spend. Historically [raising the minimum wage] is one of the best economic stimulators we've ever had," Evans said. "Economically it's great for big business. It's also incredibly good for smaller businesses."

The UVI demonstration is one of many similar actions that formed Dec. 5 around fast food restaurants across the country, including walk outs, protests and strikes in more than 100 cities. 

Earlier this year, Boise Weekly reported that since the recession, the bulk of Idaho's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients are children, and that adult recipients are expected to work at least 30 hours per week: Recipients of so-called "food stamps" are the working poor—many of whom are working for the minimum wage—and their ranks are growing.

According to a study by the University of California, Berkeley, taxpayers shoulder about $7 billion every year for public assistance given to fast food service workers, and that nearly 52 percent of fast food workers enroll in public assistance programs. 

Demonstrators in front of McDonald's on Broadway Avenue   gathered to advocate for a higher minimum wage. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Demonstrators in front of McDonald's on Broadway Avenue gathered to advocate for a higher minimum wage.