First, some perspective. Pictured here are some day laborers working on construction
of the Hoover Dam in 1932
These men were part of a corps of 5,000 men paid 50 cents an hour to do the
dirty unskilled labor that created the magnificent dam over 5 years of hard
dangerous work. Those who got that 50 cents an hour considered themselves lucky,
as wage rates were depressed by the height of the Great Depression. Still, labor
unions at the time bitterly denounced the wage rates and working conditions
of the Hoover Dam laborers:
"We believe that a great injustice is being perpetrated against the workers
at Boulder Dam in the general lowering of working and living conditions on a
project directly under the supervision of our Government during this time of
depression and unemployment. Labor at Boulder Dam has no voice in the settling
of wages, hours of labor, working conditions, safety or living conditions. Last
year local Labor Unions attempted to have the Bacon-Davis prevailing wage law
apply to the Boulder Canyon project and Boulder City. An investigation by the
conciliation Division of the Department of Labor found that the Bacon-Davis
Act did not become a law until two days after the Six Companies signed their
contract. Further, that reservations were not covered by the prevailing rate
of wage law and the result was a general lowering of wages and working conditions.
An arbitrary scale of wage was imposed on skilled mechanics twenty-five to fifty
percent lower than the prevailing scales for similar work in the territory adjacent
to the project."
Picture and quote from the Boulder
City/Hoover Dam Museum. Go there if you're in Vegas sometime. It's an incredible
story they tell.
Now fast forward to 2005. The GOP dominated US Senate has just
voted down the first increase of the minimum wage since 1997: from $5.15
to $6.25 an hour. All the Democrats plus four Republicans voted for it. It failed
51-49. In the time since the last increase in the minimum wage, Senators
voted themselves seven pay raises totaling $28,000 per year.
What does this have to do with the Hoover Dam workers? Well, 50 cents
an hour in the Depression translates into $7.89 per hour in today's dollars.
(Don't believe me? Do the math with the historical Consumer
Price Index.) What the Senate is saying is that today's minimum wage workers
should be getting a wage 35% LOWER than unskilled, non-union
labor in the height of the Great Depression. This is progress? No. It's
a crime against Americans. Next election time, remember who did this