Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — A handful of Senate Democrats this week will attempt to increase the minimum wage by 90 cents an hour.
The effort is unlikely to succeed, since the Republican majority in the House and Senate opposes it, yet its advocates hope to capitalize on rhetoric from the presidential campaign trail that working Americans are facing tough economic times. President Clinton has made a minimum wage hike a priority this year.
The increase, which would be the first since 1991, would raise the wage floor from $4.25 to $5.15 in two annual 45-cent hikes. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), who is in support of the measure, said attempts would be made to attach it to one of three must-pass bills expected before the Senate: a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government; a debt limit bill to extend the nation’s debt limit, or an energy appropriations bill.
The retail community, along with other business groups, opposes the proposal and plans to fight it if it reaches the floor of the Senate.
Steve Pfister, vice president and director of political affairs for the National Retail Federation, said, “We feel the market dictates the rate. If the minimum wage is raised, some people earning the minimum wage may not have jobs.”
Pfister had no recent figures on how many workers in retailing earn the minimum. The Democratic Policy Committee estimates that almost 12 million American workers do, about 9 million of them adults. Of those, about 60 percent are women.
Pfister also said the timing of the effort was political since the AFL/CIO is meeting here today to vote on whether to levy a special assessment on 78 national unions of 15 cents per member to help fund a political action committee for this year’s congressional and presidential elections. Organized labor is seeking to raise $35 million in political contributions this year, a spokesman said. — Fairchild News Service

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