In his union food service job on the UW-Madison campus, Corey Larson makes almost twice the state minimum wage, but at $13.50 an hour he has trouble paying his $500-a-month rent.
“I have student debt that I struggle to pay, health care that I can’t afford to use, and despite cooking food 40 hours a week for a so-called living, I find myself eating ramen noodles almost every other week,” Larson, 28, told the Dane County Board Thursday.
After two hours of testimony from the public, the board voted to put a referendum question on the November ballot that the state of Wisconsin increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Thirty-three of the 37 board members sponsored the measure, which lead sponsor Carousel Andrea Bayrd said is the first step toward getting a $15 minimum wage, which many of the speakers who packed the board’s chambers Thursday advocated.
“This is not a watering down. This is the first step to establish a local Dane County minimum wage of $15,” Bayrd said.
Sup. Al Matano made a motion to up the dollar amount to $15, but that amendment failed.
“It’s not just this county board,” said Peter Rickman, a labor and community organizer with Wisconsin Jobs Now. “Cities and counties across the state are doing the same thing. Across the country they are going to $10.10 or higher.”
After President Barack Obama’s push for an increase in the federal minimum wage stalled in Congress, a number of cities and states have raised their minimum wages, and many speakers Thursday night referenced Seattle, which this month voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the country.
San Francisco is poised to do the same. New York state could raise its minimum wage, too, if its legislature gives the go-ahead.
Wisconsin’s current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. With that wage, a full-time worker with a 40-hour-a-week job earns $15,080 a year.
A 2014 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed that to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Dane County, a person must earn $14.27 an hour, nearly double the state’s hourly minimum wage.
Sup. John Hendrick said the referendum question is a good idea because it will let people express themselves.
“I’m confident that people in Dane County would feel this is a very minimal wage, but we should have a $10.10 minimum wage,” he said.
Larson, at $13.50, is not among the state’s lowest-paid workers. His cafeteria job brings in more than the referendum question is advocating., and he says the $10.10 resolution doesn’t go far enough fast enough.
A La Follette High School graduate who attended UW-Platteville and Madison Area Technical College but didn’t graduate, Larson is a member of AFSCME Local 171, which represents blue-collar, technical and security employees at UW-Madison.
“The idea that I could ever raise a family in this union job, I feel, is laughable,” he said.