The 2015 Nevada Legislature does not look like very fertile ground for those hoping to help underpaid workers, but there are those who are planning to try, anyway.
It was a topic at a progressive “summit” in Henderson last week, Clark County Sen. Richard Segerblom plans to introduce legislation for a $15 minimum wage in the state, and the Nevada Women’s Lobby is particularly concerned about the impact of low wages on women.
At a lunch meeting this week of the Lobby’s Washoe chapter, speaker Annette Magnus of ProgressNow Nevada said, “Income inequality in Nevada is a huge problem. It’s something that we’re facing on many different levels, whether it’s with women, whether it’s workers who are making just at minimum wage or below minimum wage because they’re offered insurance. We’re seeing people who don’t have retirement. They don’t have pensions. They can’t retire. So this is affecting all different types of folks and all different generations of folks. And frankly, in Nevada and across the country, we can be doing better on this issue. It’s 2015. It’s time for us to do a little better.”
She said she’s not letting the new makeup of the Nevada Legislature bother her. Both houses of the legislature went Republican in the November election.
“I’m not discouraged,” she said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for us to get new folks involved, to get new folks involved in the process, meeting them where they are, bringing people into this movement even if we have to go to break rooms at Taco Bells, whatever it needs to be, and really starting to educate folks about how this legislature is going to impact their everyday lives.”
More than a tenth of Nevada households—11.5 percent, to be exact—are headed by women with children. Given the fact that women are paid less than men, that makes those households particularly vulnerable.
“Here’s the thing—this should be a nonpartisan issue,” Magnus said when asked if this particular legislature is likely to be responsive to these concerns. “The Women’s Lobby is serious about getting people off government programs and if the legislature is serious about that, too, they need to pay people a living wage. … When we’re not, it disproportionately affects these more vulnerable groups, people who are just trying to get by. Not paying them a living wage, it’s not just hurting women, it’s hurting their families, too.”
The Lobby’s Cecelia Colling, a former Sparks City Council member who scheduled Magnus as speaker, said she wanted to elevate the visibility of the low wage problem.
“I feel like there’s so many individuals now who are working very hard and still living in poverty,” she said. “So I think it’s an equity issue and an issue we should all be thinking about.”
She said Nevada is a particular area of concern.
“I think that Nevada has a lot of people in the service industries who are underpaid, sometimes working two or three jobs, and it doesn’t seem fair.”
The prospects for Segerblom’s bill may be uncertain, given the fact that most members of the legislature believe business can do no wrong. But just getting such a bill introduced is encouraging to some, however dim its chances.
“It’s not going to stop us,” Magnus said. “We’re still going to try and get that minimum wage increase in Nevada, because we can be doing better. We should be doing better. We see others—you know, places and states, Seattle being one of them—that have just raised their wage to $15 an hour. So we know it’s going to be an uphill battle, but that’s not going to stop us from fighting and continuing this message that we have to make sure that people are making a living wage, a sustainable wage for their families.”
Nevada, like some other states, has a higher minimum wage than the federally mandated wage. Voters approved the Nevada wage at $1 above the federal level. But critics say pegging state wages to the federal level is a mistake because of how many years have passed over the decades without any raises in that federal level.
A number of people at the Lobby lunch spoke up, describing efforts by other organizations they are involved with on the same issues and their mobilizing social media for “ready response” as events unfold in the legislature.
Magnus said social media is taking a strategic role in this campaign and also drawing in those who have been little involved with politics but highly involved with social media—the young.
“We think this is getting young people involved,” she said. “People are going to be moving into these social media platforms—Instagram, Twitter—to get our message out there.”