clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Senate Votes Against Raising Minimum Wage ‘During a Global Pandemic’

But that was never the plan anyway

Restaurant Workers Rally In Support Of Raise The Wage Act Introduction And Inclusion Of $15 Minimum Wage And “One Fair Wage” For Tipped Workers in front of the US Capitol Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for One Fair Wage
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food and Travel Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Early this morning following a marathon voting session, the Senate approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. During the “vote-a-rama,” Democrats voted in support of an amendment from Senator Joni Ernst (R, Iowa) to “prohibit the increase of the federal minimum wage during a global pandemic.” Which sounds dramatic and detrimental to the fight for fair wages, except that increasing the minimum wage to $15 during the pandemic was never part of Biden’s stimulus plan in the first place.

In session, Ernst argued that “a $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it,” failing to mention how devastating it is for millions of American workers to not make a living wage. However, in what some news outlets are calling a careful piece of maneuvering, Bernie Sanders put the amendment to a non-binding voice vote instead of a roll call vote, which would have forced Democrats — divided on the issue — on the record. But even had a roll call vote happened, Biden’s plan is to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025, making the amendment effectively for show.

“It was never my intent to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour immediately during the pandemic,” said Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period, and that is what I believe we ought to do.” Sanders vowed to make sure a $15 minimum wage was included in a budget reconciliation bill, which would “allow Mr. Biden’s stimulus plan to circumvent the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule,” says the New York Times.

The minimum wage plan would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2025, and both changes would have pressing implications for restaurants, which have been extraordinarily hard hit by the pandemic. A new report named line cook as the riskiest job one could hold in this pandemic, and according to a National Restaurant Association study, 17 percent of restaurants in America have closed permanently or long-term. Some restaurant owners have panicked over the idea of an increased minimum wage, or an elimination of tipped wages, saying their businesses wouldn’t survive.

Biden’s plan would eventually lift wages for over 33 million workers, though it’s worth noting that people have been calling for a $15 minimum wage for so long that $15 an hour is no longer a living wage. With the minimum wage will changing sometime soon, restaurant owners will have to adapt to what could ultimately, according to Business Insider, improve small businesses’ economic outlook by reducing staff turnover. And remember, if there’s panic over raising menu prices, the price points were only low originally because workers were being paid poverty wages. No burger is worth that.