Waging war on wages

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published March 1, 2005  | March 2005 issue

Raising the minimum wage for the first time since 1997 has become a political football in Wisconsin. In early 2004 Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, created a state advisory panel made up of business and labor associations to study increasing the state's minimum wage. That group recommended a statewide increase to $5.70 an hour to be effective last October and to $6.50 in October 2005.

But the Republican-controlled Legislature has been against raising the wage from the current $5.15 per hour, and no statewide action has been taken. Now the Legislature wants to delay a vote until the end of 2006. Each side claims that the issue is being used for political gain.

Nevertheless, the city of Madison took that football and ran with it. In March 2004 the Common Council passed legislation to raise the minimum wage this Jan. 1 to $5.70 per hour, with increases to $6.50 in 2006, $7.25 in 2007 and $7.75 in 2008, with subsequent hikes tied to inflation.

Some of the same member groups that recommended the statewide raises have asked for an injunction against Madison, challenging the legality of a city raising the minimum wage independent of the state. Calling themselves the Main Street Coalition for Economic Growth Inc., the group includes the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the Wisconsin Merchants Federation, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Grocers Association, among other industry organizations.

In early January a Dane County circuit judge denied the request for a temporary injunction. The case against the city of Madison will proceed; meanwhile, the higher minimum wage must be paid.

Now the football has been passed to Milwaukee. As a nudge to the state, Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett has proposed raising that city's minimum wage to $5.70 per hour starting Oct. 1 and raising it again to $6.50 in 2006. The city's Common Council will take up the proposal in February, when it's expected to win approval.

Kathy Cobb